Home Buyers Aren’t Budging for Low Rates

October 22, 2014

Mortgage rates have fallen to their lowest level in nearly 18 months, while mortgage applications for home purchases have fallen 5 percent week-to-week and have dropped about 9 percent from year-ago levels, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports. 

The national average on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 4.10 percent last week, reaching the lowest level since May 2013, according to the MBA. Some lenders are reportedly even offering stellar credit borrowers below 4 percent rates.

Overall, the MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 11.6 percent last week, but the rise was entirely driven by refinance applications, not applications for home purchases, which are viewed as a leading gauge of future buying activity. Refinance applications surged 23 percent week-to-week, reaching the highest level since November 2013. Mortgage applications for home purchases continued to fall in the latest week, the MBA reports.

"Mortgage rates have fallen close to 30 basis points over the last four weeks,” says Mike Fratantoni, the MBA’s chief economist."Continuing concerns about weak economic growth in Europe and a few U.S. economic indicators that came in below expectations caused a flight to quality into U.S. Treasurys last week, leading to sharp drops in interest rates." 

But housing analysts say it’s not mortgage rates sidelining potential buyers but credit availability. Lenders have tightened their credit requirements, requiring higher credit scores and down payments that have prevented many home shoppers from closing. 

That may soon change. Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, announced Monday that the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regulator will soon be releasing rules to help ease overly tight credit standards

"We have started to move mortgage finance back to a responsible state of normalcy – one that encourages responsible lending to creditworthy borrowers while maintaining safety and soundness of the enterprises," said Watt during the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual conference on Monday. 

Source: “Slump in Mortgage Rates Fails to Rally Home Buyers,” CNBC (Oct. 22, 2014)