Mortgage demand drops to 27-year low as interest rates pull back

Real Estate

A “For Sale” sign is displayed in front of a home on August 30, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

After rising sharply for several weeks, mortgage interest rates pulled back slightly last week, but not enough to revive mortgage demand.

Total mortgage application volume fell 2.9% last week, compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($726,200 or less) decreased to 7.21% from 7.31%, with points decreasing to 0.69 from 0.73 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment.

“Mortgage applications declined to the lowest level since December 1996, despite a drop in mortgage rates,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. “Rates remained more than a full percentage point higher than a year ago, despite mixed data on the health of the economy and signs of a cooling job market.”

Applications to refinance a home loan — which are most sensitive to weekly interest rate changes — fell 5%, compared with the previous week, and were 30% lower than the same week one year ago. The vast majority of borrowers today have loans with rates below 4%. Even with high rates of home equity, borrowers are more likely to take out a second loan to pull cash out, rather than lose their low rate through a cash-out refinance.

Applications for a mortgage to purchase a home fell 2% for the week and were 28% lower than the same week one year ago.

“Prospective buyers remain on the sidelines due to low housing inventory and elevated mortgage rates,” Kan added.

Mortgage rates turned higher again to start this week, and more economic data out this week could impact rates further. While they have moved in a narrow range the past few weeks, 7% appears to be the new normal. This has thrown cold water on home prices, which had been rising for much of the year but which appear to be easing now yet again.

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