Another sharp drop in mortgage rates sent even more homeowners to their lenders, hoping to save money on their monthly payments.
Mortgage application volume jumped 21.7% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index. Volume zoomed 81% from a year ago.
The surge was a direct response to another drop in mortgage rates. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) decreased to its lowest level since November 2016, 3.93%, from 4.01%, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. That rate was 88 basis points higher a year ago.
That drove a stunning 37% jump in refinance volume for the week, the highest level since July 2016. Refinance applications were nearly 196% higher than a year ago.
"The 2019 refinance wave continued, as homeowners last week responded to extraordinarily low mortgage rates. Fears of an escalating trade war, combined with economic and geopolitical concerns, once again pulled U.S. Treasury rates lower," said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.
Mortgage rates have fallen 15 basis points in just the last two weeks and are down 80 basis points this year, prompting borrowers to take advantage and lower their monthly payments. For most, refinancing only makes financial sense if the rate can be lowered at least 75 basis points. Interest rates were lower in 2012 and part of 2013, and refinance volume was much stronger then. The majority of those who now would benefit from a refinance are more recent homebuyers.
Lower mortgage rates did not help juice the home purchase market quite as much. Mortgage applications to buy a home rose 2% for the week and were 12% higher than a year ago. Buyers today are still facing a very pricey market, and while the drop in rates helps affordability some, it's not quite enough in some markets. Prices are also rising most at the lower end of the market, where demand is strongest.
Mortgage rates have plateaued so far this week, despite continued turbulence in international markets.