Real Estate

Mortgage applications drop to lowest level in over 2 years

A “for sale” sign in front of a home that Zillow shows has a pending sale of 750,000 dollars on February 18, 2022 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Climbing mortgage rates are hitting both potential homebuyers and refinance candidates. Total mortgage applications decreased 13.1% last week to the lowest level since December 2019, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Applications to refinance dropped 15% weekly and were 56% lower than one year ago.

“Higher mortgage rates have quickly shut off refinances, with activity down in six of the first seven weeks of 2022,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($647,200 or less) increased to 4.06% from 4.05%, with points rising to 0.48 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment.

Those higher mortgage rates combined with high prices and low inventory pushed applications to purchase a home down 10% weekly and 6% lower than one year ago. This was the third straight week of declines for purchase applications.

The average purchase loan size in the MBA weekly survey didn’t increase, but at $450,200, it stayed very close to the survey’s record high of $453,000, which was hit the week ended Feb. 11.

Home prices have been climbing steadily and didn’t let up in 2021. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index was released Tuesday, and 2021 registered the highest calendar-year increase in 34 years, according to Craig J. Lazzara, managing director at S&P DJI. Prices nationally were up 18.8% in 2021 versus a 10.4% gain in 2020.

Rising mortgage rates will pose a challenge for some buyers, likely leading to less demand. Lazzara predicts that price growth will soon slow in reaction to higher rates.

“We have previously suggested that the strength in the U.S. housing market is being driven in part by a change in locational preferences as households react to the COVID pandemic,” Lazzara said. ”More data will be required to understand whether this demand surge simply represents an acceleration of purchases that would have occurred over the next several years rather than a more permanent secular change. In the short term, meanwhile, we should soon begin to see the impact of increasing mortgage rates on home prices,” he said. 

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