Real Estate

Two U.S. bank failures sent Wall Street investors scurrying for the perceived safety of the bonds markets this week, providing the real estate industry with an unexpected boon on the brink of its busiest season: the lowest mortgage rates in three weeks.

The average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed-rate home loan fell to 6.6% from 6.73% last week, according to a report from Freddie Mac on Thursday. A boost in competition for bonds including Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities typically results in lower yields for investors and cheaper borrowing costs for homebuyers.

“Mortgage rates are down following an increase of more than half a percent over five consecutive weeks,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “Turbulence in the financial markets is putting significant downward pressure on rates, which should benefit borrowers in the short term.”

On Friday, federal regulators seized Silicon Valley Bank, the 16th-largest U.S. commercial bank by assets, and on Sunday seized Signature Bank, a smaller bank based in New York that catered to cryptocurrency investors. The instability in the sector began on March 8 when Silvergate Holdings said it was closing its crypo-focused bank and would fully repay all deposits.

Financial markets were rattled again on Wednesday when a liquidity crisis caused shares of Credit Suisse to plunged, leading European regulators to bail out Switzerland’s second-largest bank.

As a result of market volatility, investors this week have been shifting money into bonds, sending the average yield on 10-year Treasuries, a benchmark for mortgage rates, to a six-week low of 3.42% on Thursday, according to data from Intercontinental Exchange.

“Mortgage interest rates follow the 10-year Treasury yield with a spread, and as you’ve seen people get conerned about where their money is invested, an enormous amount of money has funneled funneled into Treasuries in the last few days, which pushes down mortgage rates,” said Bill Banfield, executive vice president of capital markets for Rocket Mortgage, the largest U.S. lender in 2022.

The average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage reached a 20-year high of 7.08% at the end of October and again in mid-November, more than doubling from a year earlier, according to Freddie Mac.

As a result of the higher rates, mortgage lending tumbled to a nine-year low in the fourth quarter, prompting Rocket Mortgage to seek new business by partnering with Q2 Innovation Studio on software that allows regional banks and credit unions to provide Rocket’s digital home loan process through their own websites and mobile apps.

Higher mortgage rates strained affordability as Americans stretched to pay for homes after prices gained at a record pace during the first years of the pandemic. The median price for an existing U.S. home jumped 18% in 2021, the biggest gain on record, followed by an increase of 10% in 2022, about double the average of the last four decades, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In January 2021, when the average U.S. fixed rate hit an all-time low of 2.61% as measured by Freddie Mac, a buyer who wanted a $1,500 mortgage payment – including principal and interest – could get a $464,090 house, according to Rocket’s Banfield. After rates rose above 7%, it dropped to $279,285, he said.

The decline in mortgage rates this week likely will boost demand for mortgages, Banfield said. The April through June period is the busiest time of the annual real estate cycle as buyers sign contracts on homes so they can move during the summer and be in place by the start of the school year in September, according to the National Association of Realtors.

This week’s drop in rates could get some buyers moving a few weeks early, Banfield said.

“A half a percent in a rate is meaningful, but it could be temporary if things stabilize in financial markets, so it could give people a reason to jump on buying a home because it’s more affordable today than it was a week ago,” Banfield said.

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