KEY POINTS
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 3.43% from 3.45% last week.
  • That boosted mortgage demand from homebuyers by 12%, signaling a potential turn in buyer confidence.
  • Mortgage applications to buy a home rose last week, but refinance demand fell, causing total application volume to decline by 3.3% for the week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index. 

Evidence is mounting that homebuyers may be coming back to the market, after demand plummeted in the past month due to the coronavirus.

Mortgage applications to buy a home rose last week, but refinance demand fell, causing total application volume to decline by 3.3% for the week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index. 

Mortgage demand from homebuyers jumped 12%, signaling a potential turn in buyer confidence. Volume was still 20% lower than the same week one year ago. Real estate firms and listing websites have been reporting more buyer demand anecdotally over the past two weeks, and some homebuilders say they are also seeing buyers come back. 

"The 10 largest states [by application volume] had increases in purchase activity, which is potentially a sign of the start of an upturn in the pandemic-delayed spring homebuying season, as coronavirus lockdown restrictions slowly ease in various markets," said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. "California and Washington continued to show increases in purchase activity, with New York seeing a significant gain after declines in five of the last six weeks."

Adding to the incentives for buyers, mortgage rates fell to a record low on the MBA index. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of $510,400 or less decreased to 3.43% from 3.45%. Points, including origination fee, increased to 0.34 from 0.29 for loans with a 20% down payment. That rate was nearly a full percentage point higher than a year ago. Mortgage underwriting, however, continues to be tight, as lenders see higher risk from the economic downturn.

Applications to refinance a home loan fell 7% for the week but were 218% higher than a year ago. Refinances are getting harder to do, as some lenders have stopped offering certain products, due to the new risk in the market from the mortgage bailout program, part of the CARES Act. This has caused rates for refinances to be higher than rates to buy a home.

"Lenders are still working through pipelines at capacity, and observed changes in credit availability for refinance loans have also in turn impacted rates," Kan said.

The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 71.6% of total applications from 75.4% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity increased to 2.9% of total applications.