Real Estate

Mortgage applications to buy a home finally spring back, climbing 5%

Prospective home buyers view a kitchen while touring a model home at a PulteGroup housing development in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Sergio Flores | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The real estate market is signaling stronger sales ahead as homebuyers finally returned to the mortgage market after two weeks of weakening during the height of the spring housing season.

Higher mortgage rates, however, pushed the refinance market lower.

Total mortgage application volume fell 0.1 percent last week on a seasonally adjusted basis from the previous week. Volume remains 15 percent lower than the same week one year ago, according to a weekly index from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The strength last week came entirely from mortgage applications to purchase a home, which rose 4 percent for the week and are almost 5 percent higher than the same week a year ago.

"More prospective homebuyers returned to the market after two weeks of decreases in purchase activity, which were possibly due to spring break season and Easter," said Joel Kan, associate vice president of industry surveys and forecasting at the MBA.

Homebuying has been weaker than expected this spring, as tight supply limits the number of potential sales. Pending home sales in March, which measure signed contracts, not closings, fell more than expected, with real estate agents blaming a severe lack of listings, especially in more affordable price ranges.

Lower mortgage rates were expected to help, but after falling during much of April, mortgage rates began to rise again. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of $424,100 or less increased to 4.23 percent from 4.20 percent, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.37, including the origination fee, for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.

Higher rates pushed applications to refinance a home loan down 5 percent for the week. Refinance volume has been falling dramatically since rates spiked following the presidential election. They are 33 percent lower than the same week one year ago.