Mortgage Rates Jump As Economy Remains Uncertain
Rates for home loans jumped this week as financial markets and consumer sentiment remain choppy. The increase follows a slight reprieve last week, when mortgage rates fell below 5% for the first time in months.
The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.22% for the week ending August 11, up from 4.99% in the previous week, according to Freddie Mac. A year ago, the popular mortgage product averaged 2.87%.
The average 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.59%, up from 4.26% last week. Last year at this time, it was averaging 2.15%.
The average 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) was 4.43% versus 4.25% last week and 2.44% a year ago. ARMs have become more popular this year as their rates remain much lower than those for fixed-rate mortgages.
These rates don’t include fees and other costs associated with obtaining home loans.
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What’s Ahead for Mortgage Rates
Rates for home loans have been caught in a tug-of-war in recent weeks partly due to the uncertain economy. Inflation remains high despite the latest report Wednesday showing it was flat in July. And the Federal Reserve has continued to raise its federal funds rate to rein in inflation. But some investors are concerned that the central bank’s moves may be so aggressive that it plunges the economy into a recession, which would send mortgage rates lower. But the fact that the consumer price index (CPI) moved zero in July from June has made it difficult to determine where inflation, and the economy at large, goes next.
“Markets are seeking more certainty around the economic outlook, as incoming data continue to highlight a steady level of business activity and consumer spending,” said George Ratiu, manager of economic research for Realtor.com, in a statement. “While concerns of a recession remain elevated, August seems to be offering a slight breather.”
The housing market is also beginning to show signs of what many experts call a normalization, as sales have fallen, which places pressure on some of the outlandish home prices and deals seen in the past year. While the median existing-home sales price, at $416,000 in June, was another record high, the overall decline in home sales means there’s slightly more availability for home shoppers than before.
“Although rates continue to fluctuate, recent data suggest that the housing market is stabilizing as it transitions from the surge of activity during the pandemic to a more balanced market,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’’s chief economist, said in a statement.
Wary House Hunters: Is it a Good Time to Buy?
It’s not just financial markets that are seeking more certainty: many would-be buyers are, as well.
“We’re in a transition period, not only in the housing market but in the economy,” says Gonzalo Meija, a real estate agent at Watson Realty Corp. in metro Jacksonville, Florida.
Among real estate professionals, there’s a lot of discussion about the U.S. being in a recession, but homebuyers are more so focused on their own situations, Meija says.
He adds that homebuyers are mostly concerned with questions like: “Are property values going to go down? If I buy right now, is this a good idea? Are prices going to go down next month? Is it better to wait?”
Even now with rates higher than in the past few years, Meija says rates are still affordable. And there remains a chance to refinance if rates fall again in the coming years.
From a long-term perspective, “Properties are going to go up in value and it is going to pay off,” he says.
In the Washington, D.C. area, Thai Hung Nguyen, a Realtor at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, encounters the same concerns with homebuyers, and gives similar advice.
“There are huge benefits from owning a home,” he says, especially when rental costs keep skyrocketing.
Nguyen thinks the market is much healthier now than in the first quarter of this year, which he likens to a “buyer frenzy.” Nearly half of all listings have made price cuts in the past month or so, he says. However, the number of listings under contract is comparable to the same period in 2019, before Covid-19 hit, suggesting that the market is finding an equilibrium.
During markets of uncertainty, it’s all the more important to do your research and find an experienced real estate agent and good lender who can guide you through the process.
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“The market is shifting and Realtors can be a good source of information,” Nguyen says.