WASHINGTON -- The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage jumped after standing pat for three straight weeks at record lows. But the rate stayed below 4 percent for the 12th straight week, keeping homebuying and refinancing attractive for those who can qualify.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan rose to 3.95 percent. That's up from last week's rate of 3.87 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.
The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage rose to 3.19 percent from 3.16 percent. It hit a record low of 3.14 percent three weeks ago.
So far, low rates have done little to help the housing market, which is slowly improving. Few people can qualify for the rates and many who can have already done so.
The four-week average of home purchase applications dropped in late January and February while refinancing is mostly flat, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Refinancing now makes more than 81 percent of mortgage activity.
But the housing market is flashing signs of health ahead of the spring buying season. Sales of previously occupied homes are at their highest level since May 2010. More first-time buyers are making purchases. And the supply of homes fell last month to its lowest point in nearly seven years, which could push home prices higher.
The job market is also improving, which is critical to a housing rebound. In January, employers added 243,000 net jobs -- the most in nine months -- and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent, the lowest level in nearly three years.
Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac's chief economist, said the housing market is gradually starting to pick up. Still, home sales remain weak and it could take years for the market to fully return to health.
To calculate the average rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week.
The average rates don'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 or 15-year loan was unchanged at 0.8.
For the five-year adjustable loan, the average rate fell to 2.8 percent from 2.82 percent, and the average fee fell to 0.7 from 0.8.
The average on the one-year adjustable loan fell to 2.73 percent from 2.84 percent, and the average fee was unchanged at 0.6.
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Median List Price: $81,700
Total Listings: 22,370
Median Age of Inventory: 70 days
Home Price: $290,000
Sq. Ft.: 2,800
Speaking volumes to the affordability of Detroit housing, not one of Realtor.com's Detroit listings is priced above $1 million.
This $290,000 home is high-end as far as the city's market goes. The apartment, which features waterfront views, dates back to Detroit's heyday when the American automobile industry was firing on all cylinders.
Median List Price: $320,444
Total Listings: 26,858
Median Age of Inventory: 83 days
Home Price: $10.95 million
Sq. Ft.: 13,699
Los Angeles' median home price may tower over the national median (which is below $200,000); but in coming in at No. 3 on our list, that apparently hasn't stopped prospective buyers from scouring the city's listings.
This spanking-new, palatial mansion features floor-to-ceiling windows that display the home's jaw-dropping panoramas for all they're worth.
Median List Price: $221,995
Total Listings: 21,693
Median Age of Inventory: 124 days
Home Price: $4,898,100
Sq. Ft.: N/A
Philadelphia's median home price hovers above the national median by a considerable margin. The city has one of the highest average inventory ages on our list. That may induce more sellers to cut their prices.
Median List Price: $169,500
Total Listings: 17,699
Median Age of Inventory: 69 days
Home Price: $2.75 million
Sq. Ft.: 6,917
Phoenix-Mesa, bringing cheaper than average homes to the home-buying table, is fifth on our list. Perhaps luring flocks of bargain hunters, the area's homes are selling significantly faster than in most cities.
This contemporary has a well-landscaped courtyard and guesthouse. The listing description plays up the home's privacy, which makes the home "feel miles away."
Median List Price: $142,000
Total Listings: 18,827
Median Age of Inventory: 110 days
Home Price: $3,999,999
Sq. Ft.: 6,763
Florida is one of the states hit hardest by the the housing bust with rampant foreclosures driving down home prices all around the state. So it's no surprise that buyers have the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area in their crosshairs.
This magnificent waterfront manse sits on some prime Tampa real estate. Price per square foot? $591. While that may strike you as exorbitant, keep in mind, pre-meltdown, this place's value surely dwarfed its current price tag.
Median List Price: $189,900
Total Listings: 16,291
Median Age of Inventory: 94 days
Home Price: $6.495 million
Sq. Ft.: 5,025
Dallas' median home price hovers around the national median, rendering it a fairly affordable city to your average American.
This home, however, is not affordable to your average American -- but, hey, it's fun to look at. The contemporary sits on a one-acre lot that stares out at the Dallas skyline. Recently, the home's price was slashed to $6.49 million.
Median List Price: $121,000
Total Listings: 21,665
Median Age of Inventory: 105 days
Home Price: $8 million
Sq. Ft.: 13,489
Las Vegas took one of the biggest shellackings from the bursting of the real estate bubble, with its median home price plunging by more than 60 percent. It would seem that buyers are keen on taking advantage of the rock-bottom prices.
This massive luxury home almost certainly used to be worth well over $10 million. Now the 13,489-square-foot behemoth is running for $8 million.