Mortgage refinance demand tanks 39% as rates continue to climb


A house’s real estate for sale sign shows the home as being “Under Contract” in Washington, DC, November 19, 2020.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Higher mortgage rates are cutting into demand for refinances, as fewer and fewer borrowers can now get worthwhile savings.

Applications to refinance a home loan fell 4% for the week and were down 39% compared with the same week one year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index. Just a few months ago, refinance volume was more than 100% higher than the previous year. In addition, the refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 62.9% of total applications from 64.5% the previous week.

The drop is due to higher interest rates, which last week hit the highest level since June 2020. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) increased to 3.28% from 3.26% with points decreasing to 0.41 from 0.43 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment.

“After reaching a recent high in the last week of January, the refinance index has since fallen 26 percent to its lowest level since September 2020,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. “Rates have jumped 36 basis points since the end of January, and last week refinance activity fell across all loan types.”

More than half of all borrowers currently have rates below 4%, according to Black Knight. Rates set more than a dozen record lows last year, but have been rising steadily this year, as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. Rates rose even further to start this week, but could take a turn depending on news out of the Federal Reserve on Wednesday in its latest policy announcement.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home, which are less sensitive to weekly rate moves, increased 2% for the week and were 5% higher than the same week one year ago.

“The purchase market helped offset the slump in refinances … as the recovering job market and demographic factors drive demand, despite ongoing supply and affordability constraints,” added Kan.

Buyers are starting to hit an affordability wall as well, as home prices increase at a fast clip for both new and existing houses. Mortgage applications for newly built homes fell 9% month to month in February, as rates began rising decisively.

MBA’s estimate of new home sales of 748,000 units is the slowest annual pace since May of last year. That comes after seven consecutive months of an 800,000-plus-unit sales pace.

The average loan size for newly built houses also rose to a record high of more than $370,000, as overall housing inventory levels are consistently low and home prices are climbing.   


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