Mortgage applications fall 1.6%, but average loan size hits record high by Diana Olick

The steep drop in refinance activity since interest rates spiked following the presidential election continues to keep overall volume in the negative from a year ago.

Last week, the annual drop came in at just under 15 percent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Mortgage applications to refinance fell 4 percent for the week and are 33 percent lower than a year ago, when interest rates were higher. Not only are fewer people able to benefit from refinancing at today’s rates, fewer people are choosing refinances as a way to take cash out of their homes because they don’t want to lose the low rate they already have.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home, however, are stronger. They rose 1 percent for the week and are 8 percent higher than a year ago. The spring housing season got off to a slow start in much of the nation, due to a surprisingly late kick of winter. Purchase activity is also being hampered by high prices and tight supply.

Home price gains in February registered 7 percent annually, a wider increase than January, according to CoreLogic. Prices are being helped by an improving job market and rising incomes, but fierce competition for the available listings is fueling the big gains.

“Home prices continue to grow at a torrid pace so far in 2017, and these gains are likely to continue well into the future,” said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “Home prices are at peak levels in many major markets.”

Mortgage rates are higher than they were before the election, but they really haven’t moved much in the past few weeks. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of $424,100 or less increased to 4.34 percent from 4.33 percent, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.43, including the origination fee, for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.

“Markets appeared to hit pause last week, with little new information emerging about upcoming administrative or legislative policy changes,” said Lynn Fisher, the MBA’s vice president of research and economics, who also noted that the average purchase loan size reached a new high for the survey. It has not, however, been increasing as quickly as home prices overall during the last year. The size of the average loan likely has less to do with rising home values and more with the fact that the bulk of sales are taking place on the higher end of the market, where supply is more plentiful.

Mortgage rates have not moved much so far this week, but that could change soon. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday releases the minutes of its most recent meeting, giving insight into its interest rate strategy, and the March employment report is being released on Friday.

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