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Both homeowners and homebuyers are taking a step back from the mortgage market, as stagnant interest rates give them no particular reason to act quickly.
Total mortgage application volume fell 2.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Volume was 22 percent lower compared with the same week one year ago, due to much lower volume in refinances.
Mortgage applications to refinance a home loan fell 4 percent for the week, seasonally adjusted, and were 41 percent lower than the same week one year ago, when interest rates were lower. Refinance volume is particularly sensitive to weekly rate moves, but rates have been so low for so long that there is a shrinking pool of borrowers who might benefit from a refinance. Rates are currently hovering around the lowest level in five weeks.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) remained unchanged at 4.17 percent, with points decreasing to 0.36 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
"It was an up and down time for rates last week in response to mixed economic news coupled with the Fed's FOMC statement," said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of industry surveys and forecasting. "The statement outlined a mostly healthy outlook, with a slight concern over inflation and the news that balance sheet reduction could begin 'relatively soon.'"
Mortgage applications to purchase a home, which are far less sensitive to weekly rate moves, fell 2 percent for the week. That is the second straight decline and the lowest level since last March. Purchase applications were 9 percent higher than the same week one year ago.
Homebuyers today are less concerned with interest rates and more concerned with overheating home prices and a severe shortage of houses for sale.
Mortgage rates moved even lower to start this week due to some weak economic data.
"GM posted a sharp decline in auto sales," noted Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. "This builds a case for economic weakness, leading more traders to seek safer returns in the bond market. Excess demand for bonds results in lower interest rates."
A bigger move could come at the end of this week when the Labor Department releases the monthly employment report.
The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 45.5 percent of total applications from 46.0 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity decreased to 6.6 percent of total applications.
The Federal Housing Administration share of total applications increased to 10.3 percent from 10.2 percent the week prior. The Department of Veterans Affairs share of total applications decreased to 10.1 percent from 10.5 percent the week prior. The Department of Agriculture share of total applications remained unchanged at 0.8 percent from the week prior.