Weekly mortgage applications flatline, along with interest rates

  • Mortgage application volume last week sank 15 percent from last year but was unchanged from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  • Home prices, while still rising, are up less than they were at the start of this year.
Mortgage applications Bank of America
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If no news is good news, then there is good news in the mortgage market. Mortgage application volume was unchanged last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index.

But volume was 15 percent lower than a year ago, when interest rates were more than 80 basis points lower.

Applications to refinance a home loan, which are highly rate-sensitive, had no reason to move and barely did, falling 0.1 percent for the week. Refinance volume has been weak all year, as interest rates moved sharply higher in January and are even higher now. Volume was 33 percent lower compared with the same week in 2017.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) decreased to 4.96 percent from 4.97 percent, with points increasing to 0.49 from 0.47 (including the origination fee) for loans with 20 percent down payments. That is just off the highest level in seven years.

"Rates were little changed last week, following the most recent FOMC meeting where the Fed announced another rate hike based on the health of the economy and job market as expected," said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. "Short term rates have been increasing but long term rates have held steady, which should not pose too much of a headwind to home purchase activity, especially given the potential demand from demographic factors."

Mortgage applications to purchase a home inched up just 0.1 percent for the week and were 3 percent higher than a year ago. Buyers continue to be faced with slim listings and high prices. It didn't help that the average rate on the 30-year jumbo mortgage hit its highest level since July 2011. More sales are occurring on the higher end of the housing market, simply because there is more supply in that range. Sales of low-priced homes are down significantly this year, according to the National Association of Realtors, not for lack of demand, but for lack of supply.

Home prices, while still rising, are up less than they were at the start of this year. The annual increase in August, 5.5 percent, was the slowest pace in two years, according to CoreLogic.

"The rise in mortgage rates this summer to their highest level in seven years has made it more difficult for potential buyers to afford a home," said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "The slackening in demand is reflected in the slowing of national appreciation, as illustrated in the CoreLogic Home Price Index. ... We expect appreciation to slow further in the coming year."