Mortgage rates in the U.S. jumped to a two-year high, increasing borrowing costs for homebuyers as sales accelerate.
The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.58 percent this week from 4.4 percent, Freddie Mac said in a statement Thursday. The average 15-year rate climbed to 3.6 percent from 3.44 percent, the mortgage-finance company said. Both were the highest since July 2011.
Homebuyers are rushing to take advantage of historically low borrowing costs before they increase even more.
Existing-home sales in July jumped 6.5 percent to the second-highest level in six years, the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday. Those transactions largely reflect closings of contracts signed a month or two earlier, when mortgage rates were just beginning to edge up.
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“If you were considering buying, rates aren’t going to get much better any time soon,” said Erin Lantz, director of mortgages at Seattle-based Zillow. “So buying sooner rather than later makes sense.”
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate has climbed from 3.35 percent in early May as the Federal Reserve signaled it may begin scaling back its bond-buying program aimed at lowering borrowing costs.
Policy makers were “broadly comfortable” with Chairman Ben Bernanke’s plan to start reducing purchases later this year if the economy improves, according to the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) July meeting, released Wednesday.
The FOMC will probably reduce its $85 billion in monthly purchases at its Sept. 17-18 meeting, according to 65 percent of 48 economists in a Bloomberg survey. The median estimate called for a cut to $75 billion each month.
Rising mortgage rates have had the biggest effect on refinancing. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s index of applications to lower monthly payments fell 7.7 percent in the week ended Aug. 16, the 10th straight decline. A measure of purchases rose 1.2 percent, the trade group said Wednesday.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is well below its average of about 6.3 percent for the past 20 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The 20-year average for a 15-year loan is about 5.83 percent.
Lowe’s, the second-largest U.S. home-improvement retailer, isn’t “overly concerned” about the rise in rates as long as the 30-year average stays below 6 percent, Chief Executive Robert Niblock said on a conference call Wednesday. The company and larger competitor Home Depot this week reported earnings that beat analysts’ estimates and raised their profit forecasts for 2013, buoyed by the housing recovery.
“The rate increases will likely take some steam out of the recent housing-market rebound but shouldn’t derail it as long as job gains persist, homes continue to appreciate and rates rise more gradually going forward,” Niblock said.