Weekly mortgage applications are stuck in a rut as rates rise

  • Mortgage interest rates are stuck near recent highs and beginning to rise again, further weakening home affordability.
  • Mortgage applications are still at historically low levels given the demand for housing.
  • Affordability has weakened this year amid fast-rising home prices and higher mortgage interest rates compared with last year.
A real estate agent shows a home to a prospective buyer in Miami.
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A real estate agent shows a home to a prospective buyer in Miami.

Homebuyers and homeowners don't have much incentive to call a mortgage lender right now.

Mortgage interest rates are stuck near recent highs and are beginning to rise again, further weakening home affordability. Those factors left mortgage application volume basically unchanged last week, falling 0.1 percent compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index. Volume was 18 percent lower compared with the same week one year ago.

Refinance activity continues to bleed, because fewer borrowers can benefit given today's higher interest rates. Applications to refinance a home loan fell 1 percent for the week and were 37 percent lower than a year ago.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) increased to 4.80 percent from 4.78 percent, with points decreasing to 0.42 from 0.46 (including the origination fee) for loans with 20 percent down payments. The average rate was nearly three-quarters of a percentage point lower one year ago.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home increased 1 percent for the week and were 2 percent higher than a year ago. They are still, however, at historically low levels, given the demand for housing. Affordability has weakened this year amid fast-rising home prices and higher mortgage interest rates compared with last year.

"Mortgage application volume was little changed as mortgage rates remain within the narrow range they have been in the past several months," said Mike Fratantoni, MBA's chief economist. "Home prices, while decelerating, continue to rise faster than household income."

The average size for purchase loans, however, dropped to its lowest level since December. That could be a sign that first-time buyers are finding a way into the market, according to Fratantoni. Supply on the low end is still very low, and the drop in loan size may be due to the fact that buyers in the spring purchase larger, family homes, while buyers in late summer and fall tend to purchase smaller, less expensive homes.

Mortgage rates began this week slightly higher, thanks to strong economic data, which caused investors to jump out of the bond market, pushing yields higher. Mortgage rates loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury.

"A key manufacturing report hit its best levels in more than 14 years this morning [Tuesday], putting additional upward pressure on rates," wrote Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. "The rest of the week has several other important economic reports. If they sing the same tune, rates could easily continue higher."