WASHINGTON -- Average U.S. rates for 30-year and 15-year fixed mortgages fell to record lows for the third straight week. The steady decline has made homebuying and refinancing more affordable than ever for those who can qualify.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan dipped to 3.79 percent. That's down from 3.83 percent last week and the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.
The 15-year mortgage, a popular option for refinancing, declined to 3.04 percent. That's down from last week's previous record of 3.05 percent.
Rates on the 30-year loan have been below 4 percent since early December. But so far, those cheap rates haven't been enough to ignite home sales.
While sales of previously occupied homes picked up in January and February, they fell again in March and remain well below healthy levels.
Builders broke ground in April at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 717,000 homes, the government reported Wednesday. That nearly matches January's pace, the best since October 2008.
Construction rose for both single-family homes and apartments. And builders requested more permits to build single-family homes, a sign that they expect more demand in the coming months.
Still, many would-be buyers can't qualify for loans or afford higher down payments required by banks. Home prices in many cities continue to fall. That has made those who can afford to buy uneasy about entering the market. And for those who are willing to brave the troubled market, many have already taken advantage of lower rates -- mortgage rates have been below 5 percent for more than a year now.
The Treasury-Note Connection
Mortgage rates are lower because they tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. Slower U.S. job growth and uncertainty about how Europe will resolve its debt crisis have led investors to buy more Treasurys, which are considered safe investments. As demand for Treasurys increases, the yield falls.
To calculate the average rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week.
The average rage does not 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 30-year loans was 0.7 last week, unchanged from the previous week. The fee on 15-year loans also was 0.7, the same as the previous week.
The average one-year adjustable rate was 2.78 percent last week, up from 2.73 percent the previous week. The fee on one-year adjustable rate mortgages was unchanged at 0.5.
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Mortgage Rates Reach Record Lows for 3rd Straight Week
The jury is in: Our beleaguered housing market has finally turned the corner, many experts say.
Not only are home prices beginning to edge up for the first time in months, but other indicators, like home construction and sales, are stronger than they've been in years. Still, with tight lending conditions and shaky employment, the progress is slow in most communities.
But not in these places.
There are actually markets that are steaming at full speed toward recovery. But with home prices still severely depressed, compared to 2006 levels, many properties remain ripe for the taking.
Keep clicking to see some of the best homes (as determined by Realtor.com) for sale in some of the hottest markets.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 8.04 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -47.36 percent
Home Location: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Price: $11.3 million
Sq. Ft.: 13,282
The quintessential enormous Florida mega-mansion, this home boasts 145 feet of canal waterfront, with quick access to the ocean. Its backyard has a pool and hot tub, a full service concrete dock, and an outdoor dining area with a summer kitchen.
Built in 2009, the home features all state-of-the art appliances. The kitchen has an oversize center island, a walk-in pantry and a separate butler’s pantry. The master suite features a sitting area, two walk-in closets and two master bathrooms.
This newly built, never-before-occupied home is located in the highly sought after Phillips Park community in Washington, D.C. It was built with energy-saving in mind, with Energy Star appliances, high-performance windows, insulated doors, energy efficient heating and cooling systems, and water-saving plumbing.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 8.58 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -29.15 percent
Home Location: University Park, Texas
Sq. Ft.: 6,561
This classic five-bedroom home with a stone exterior has some interesting and unique features. It has a two-story library, an Old World pizza oven, a wine vault, and an outdoor loggia with built-in grill.
There is a tiki bar with summer kitchen; a pool with a large, beautiful waterfall and a spa; two wrap-around decks (one on each floor); and the second floor deck has its own hot tub. There’s also a sound system wired throughout the house and lanai, which is also wired for a TV.
Its banquet-size dining room is perfect for entertaining, and its extreme kitchen is a chef’s dream. It features a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a Sub-Zero two-drawer freezer, large double oven, two dishwashers, ice maker, level-5 granite counters, a chef’s special area for preparing meals, and a walk-in appliance closet. And all with spectacular water views.
In the home's foyer, stone columns reach to soaring ceilings. The ceilings rise even higher in its family room, which has a granite fireplace and remote-controlled blinds. The home's pool area has a swim-up wet bar and includes 1,300 square feet of imported stone.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 7.07 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.35 percent
Home Location: Oakland, Calif.
Price: $2.2 million
Sq. Ft.: 3,717
Oakland's price appreciation over the last year has been relatively modest compared to some of our other picks. But the market's rapidly clearing inventory identifies the area as a promising investment opportunity. From its hillside perch in Oakland, this Tuscan-style stunner presides over San Francisco Bay. The interior features custom finishes, Venetian plaster, pecan hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 14.34 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -34.16 percent
Home Location: Naples, Fla.
Price: $2.997 million
Sq. Ft.: 5,076
This palm tree-lined home nestles into a .60-acre lot blanketed with lush landscaping. Despite rising listing prices in the area, this home just got a price cut, with its ask now just under $3 million.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 17.53 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -36.87 percent
Home Location: Boise, Idaho
Price: $2.325 million
Sq. Ft.: 6,258
Boise's certainly a bright spot on today's sometimes-gloomy housing horizon, and if you dip into its sizzling market, you can bet on bagging a lot more space than you would in many coastal cities. That's the case with this Spanish-style, stucco beauty, which, beyond its 5.85-acre plot and 6,258-square-foot interior, offers elaborate finishes and decor.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 11.54 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -41.58 percent
Home Location: Orlando, Fla.
Price: $3 million
Sq. Ft.: 6,999
Orlando clocks in at a third on our list of the hottest markets out there. In the fast-recovering city sits this beautifully manicured property. The stone-built home is just over 10 years old and commands 1.27 acres of verdant landscape.
Amenities await wherever you go on this luxury property. Pictured here is a wine bar complemented by one of the home's pool tables. Outside there's a pool, boat ramp, slip and dock. Community amenities include a fishing pier, fitness center, golf course, playground and tennis courts.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 24.32 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.03 percent
Home Location: Miami Beach, Fla.
Price: $3 million
Sq. Ft.: 1,332
While foreclosure-saturated Florida has been walloped by the housing crash, the Miami-area market still costs a pretty penny per square foot. And considering that the market is really starting to heat up, local turf is not about to get any less expensive. If you're in a position to pony up $3 million, you can bag this swanky apartment.
Year-Over-Year Median List Price Appreciation: 26.94 percent
Year-Over-Year Inventory Change: -48.04 percent
Home Location: Phoenix
Price: $5.995 million
Sq. Ft.: 11,039
This French chateau rose shortly after the onset of the housing meltdown, and almost undoubtedly has seen its value tumble over the last few years in Phoenix's hard-hit real estate market.
But days ahead might be brighter for this 11,039-square-foot behemoth. Phoenix, like some of the other hardest-hit markets, is mounting a furious comeback. Realtor.com says prices have shot up nearly 27 percent in the last year.
The home's rear has a covered patio with fireplace that looks out on the property's expansive pool. Some of the home's notable amenities: a recording studio, spa, four-car garage, wine room, theater, guesthouse and giant master suite.