Americans may have seen the last of long-term mortgage rates below 6 percent, and borrowing costs for homebuyers likely will climb further...
NEW YORK — Americans may have seen the last of long-term mortgage rates below 6 percent, and borrowing costs for homebuyers likely will climb further, slowing frenetic demand that has stoked U.S. housing in recent years.
Realtors have spotted a drop in the appetite for housing in recent months, and a survey of lenders from Freddie Mac yesterday found that rates for 30-year mortgages — a popular home loan — have topped 6 percent for the first time since March.
“The most likely pattern is for mortgage rates to gradually rise over time. It is likely that they’ll hover at 6 percent or just a bit over,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at Freddie Mac. He added that this “will translate into somewhat weaker demand for housing, lower home-sales volume and lower house-price growth.”
Douglas Duncan, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association, an industry trade group, said that “because of increased concerns about inflationary pressures,” the rate will stay above 6 percent.
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In raising interest rates last month, Federal Reserve policy-makers expressed their concerns about inflation. And earlier this week, meeting minutes from those Fed officials hinted at more interest-rate increases.
Inflation concerns have been noticed in the broader financial markets, especially the U.S. Treasury securities market, where interest rates have risen, tugging mortgage rates with them.
According to Freddie Mac, the U.S. housing agency that sells guarantees for home loans, this week’s 6.03 percent for 30-year mortgages is the second-highest level of the year. Thirty-year rates were at 6.04 percent in the March 31 week.
This week is also the third time this year mortgage rates have been above 6 percent — an important psychological level. When rates were below 6 percent, that helped spur home buying and refinancings of home loans that allowed Americans to spend their way out of the most recent economic downturn.
The low mortgage rates have supported consumer spending on goods and services — which accounts for two-thirds of the nation’s economy as measured by the gross domestic product — because low borrowing costs allowed homeowners to draw money from properties that had appreciated in value.
Also, the steady rise in the cost of money is sure to limit home-price appreciation because buyers won’t be as ready to bid up prices on homes for sale.
“It is going to definitely cause more of a slowdown,” said Brenda Binczewski, a Realtor at Carlson GMAC Real Estate in Palmer, Mass. Binczewski said she has seen business decline since July and has not had multiple offers for a home in three or four months.
By contrast, a year and a half ago a single home could have two or three offers, Binczewski recalled.
Freddie Mac’s Nothaft pointed out that he does not expect a sharp drop in home prices or home sales, because the rise in mortgage rates has been gradual. “It would be different if we had a spike in mortgage rates,” Nothaft said.
Duncan noted that some homebuyers may resort to adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), which initially have lower borrowing costs.
“As fixed rates rise, ARMs will become a bigger factor,” said Stephen LaDue, president of Affiliated Mortgage of Wauwatosa, Wis. “The rate of increase in home values will slow or will start to stagnate” because of higher rates, he said.
In its survey, Freddie Mac found that adjustable-rate mortgages, which are linked to one-year Treasury rates, were offered at 4.85 percent this week. That is up from 4.77 percent a week ago and 4.01 percent 12 months ago.
Further interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve probably will push ARM rates even higher, analysts said.
At the same time, a few consumers prospecting for properties — especially those prequalified by lenders — may be spurred into action by the rising interest rates.
“People may start buying before it [the mortgage rate] goes up any more,” Binczewski said.