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The start of the spring housing market has yet to energize the mortgage market, the latest numbers from the Mortgage Bankers Association show.
Total mortgage application volume was essentially flat last week, up just 0.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the MBA. Volume was 5 percent lower than the same week one year ago.
Mortgage applications to purchase a home also did not increase as much as one might expect, given that President's Day weekend was the unofficial start of the usually busy spring market. Volume fell 1 percent for the week and was just 1 percent higher than the same week one year ago.
"The average loan amount on purchase applications, at $320,100, was the highest since November 2017, as supply constraints likely continued to weigh down lower dollar purchase transactions," MBA economist Joel Kan said.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) increased slightly, but hit its highest level since January 2014 — 4.65 percent, from 4.64 percent. Points decreased to 0.58 from 0.63 — including the origination fee — for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.
"Rates inched higher overall last week driven by market concerns over potential U.S. trade tariffs, and Fed Chairman [Jerome] Powell's testimony outlining stronger economic growth and higher expected inflation in the near future," Kan said.
But without a major move in rates, applications to refinance a home loan, which are most rate-sensitive, didn't move either. They were unchanged from the previous week and down 13 percent from a year ago, when rates were lower.
Homebuyers today are less worried about mortgage rates than they are about the supply crisis, especially for entry-level, less expensive homes. Low inventory across the nation continues to push home prices higher at a fast clip. Property values were 6.6 percent higher in January from a year ago, according to property data firm CoreLogic.
"Entry-level homes have been in particularly short supply, leading to more rapid home-price growth compared with more expensive homes," said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic.
Homes with purchase prices that are less than 75 percent of the local area median had price growth of 9 percent during 2017, he said.
High prices are likely the reason more borrowers are turning to adjustable-rate mortgages, which offer lower interest rates. ARMs were popular during the last housing boom in the mid-2000s.
Last week, the ARM share of mortgage activity increased to 7.3 percent of total applications, its highest level since June.