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Mortgage applications drop 2.1% as interest rates hit highest level since July

  • Total mortgage application volume fell 2.1 percent last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  • Refinance applications fell 4 percent for the week and are down 38 percent from a year ago.
Prospective buyers with their real estate agent survey the kitchen of a new home in Denver.
Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Prospective buyers with their real estate agent survey the kitchen of a new home in Denver.

Consumers today are more optimistic about the economy, their jobs and the housing market, but that doesn't mean they're buying more homes.

Total mortgage application volume fell 2.1 percent last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted report. While most of the drop stemmed from a continued reduction in refinance activity, applications to purchase a home also fell.

Refinance volume, which is highly sensitive to even the smallest moves in interest rates, has been weak all year because mortgage rates jumped after the November election and haven't come down much. Refinance applications fell 4 percent for the week and are down 38 percent from a year ago.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of $424,100 or less increased to 4.16 percent from 4.12 percent, with points decreasing to 0.44 from 0.45, including the origination fee, for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.

"Data released last week, on balance, suggested continued strong economic growth," said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. "In combination with hawkish comments from some Fed officials, this pushed rates up. The 30-year fixed rate increased 4 basis points to reach its highest level since July."

Mortgage applications to purchase a home were essentially flat for the week, down 0.1 percent, but remain 7 percent higher than the same week one year ago. Buyers today are less worried about mortgage rates, which are still historically low, and more concerned with finding affordable homes to buy. While the application volume is up 7 percent from a year ago, the dollar volume is up 12 percent, indicating that more activity is happening in higher price ranges.

There is simply more supply for sale in the move-up market, and next to nothing at the entry level.

The purchase application numbers don't seem to jibe with a new survey showing increased optimism for homebuying among renters. More believe that now is a good time to buy, according to Fannie Mae, even though home price gains are accelerating in much of the nation. This may be due to better employment and wage growth recently and an overall optimism about the economy. There is also more supply of newly built homes, and some builders are reporting that renters are skipping the entry-level existing home, where competition is rough and the pickings are slim, and buying new construction, even though it is more expensive.