Mortgage Rates Continue Downward Slide

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Mortgage Rates
Jae C. Hong/AP
By JOSH BOAK

WASHINGTON -- Average U.S. mortgage rates fell for the third straight week, making it more affordable to borrow to buy a home.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday that the nationwide average for a 30-year loan fell to 4.12 percent from 4.19 percent last week. The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, also declined to 3.3 percent from 3.36 percent.

The 30-year rate is down from 4.53 percent at the start of the year.

Rates have fallen even though the Federal Reserve appears set at the end of this month to end its monthly bond purchases, which are intended to keep long-term borrowing rates low. Yet Fed officials have indicated that they will continue to hold shorter-term rates at near-zero levels until there are signs of rising inflation.

Fed actions often influence the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which affects mortgage rates. The 10-year note was trading at 2.32 percent at midday Thursday, down sharply from 2.41 percent a week earlier.

Mortgage rates are falling as the housing market has cooled off. Average price growth has slowed, rising just 6.4 percent in August compared with a year ago, according to real estate data provider CoreLogic (CLGX). That's down from annual average gains of as much as 12 percent toward the end of last year.

Similarly, sales of existing homes also declined in August. Fewer investors bought properties, and first-time buyers have yet to return to the market, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Sales of new homes shot up in August, yet it remains below historic averages, according to Commerce Department data.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday each week. The average doesn't include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.
  • The average fee for a 30-year mortgage rose to 0.5 point from 0.4 point last week. The fee for a 15-year mortgage remained at 0.5 point.
  • The average rate on a 5-year adjustable-rate mortgage fell to 3.05 percent from 3.06 percent. The fee stayed at 0.5 point.
  • For a 1-year ARM, the average rate was unchanged at 2.42 percent. The fee held at 0.4 point.
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Mortgage Rates Continue Downward Slide
In 2013, the median lot size of a new sold single-family house was 8,596 square feet, or just under 0.2 acres. While that might not seem like a lot for you suburban homeowners, a regional breakdown shows that the small average size isn't due to urban inhabitants alone. The Northeast enjoys the largest average lot, at 13,052 square feet, while the less densely populated South and West lay claim to just 8,649 square feet and 6,796 square feet, respectively.
From a footprint of 1,650 square feet in 1978, the average American home has grown 50 percent, to 2,478 square feet. Yet tough times seem to be squeezing our expansionary attitude. Although new single-family homes sold in 2013 clocked in at a median 2,478 square feet, single-family homes completed in 2013 amounted to just 2,384 square feet. Homebuilder confidence has plummeted into pessimism in the last few months, hinting that the housing market's road to recovery might be rougher than expected.

While birth rates have held relatively steady for the past 40 years, everyone apparently needs more elbow room. The share of homes with four or more bedrooms has jumped from 27 percent in 1978 to 51 percent in 2013. And where would a bedroom be without a bathroom? While just 8 percent of 1978 homes had three or more baths, 37 percent of homes now fall in that category.

From 2008 to 2013, both the share of homes with four or more bedrooms and the share of homes with three or more bathrooms have jumped 10 percentage points, while median square footage is up 10.9 percent for the same period.
 

If there's one strong sign of new housing demand, it's home prices. After nose-diving during the Great Recession to a median sales price of just $216,700, home prices have been roaring back up. In 2013, the median sales price for a new single-family home was $268,900. But for those on the housing hunt, don't be discouraged. Home prices today still don't hold a candle to costs in 2006, according to the well-regarded Case-Shiller Home Price Index. In 2006, the index topped 200 before plummeting to less than 140, and current rates put the index just above 170.
It is America, after all. Our industrialized nation was built on the back of Henry Ford, and America is in no danger of breaking its automobile addiction. In 2013, a whopping 300,000 of the 429,000 new single-family homes sold included a two-car garage. And 98,000 new homes included a three-car garage -- the highest amount since 2007. Of all new homes built, only 10,000 failed to include a garage or carport.
American homebuyers are building bigger homes than ever before. But if there's one thing the recent recession has shown us, bigger isn't always better. Although 30 percent of Americans believe real estate is the best long-term investment, homeownership isn't for everyone. There are plenty of reasons to spend less or invest elsewhere -- and leave keeping up with the Joneses to Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
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