WASHINGTON -- The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 4 percent this week, nearly matching the all-time low hit just one month ago.
Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan dropped from 4.10 percent last week. Four weeks ago, it dropped to 3.94 percent -- the lowest rate ever, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.31 percent from 3.38 percent. Four weeks ago, it too hit a record low of 3.26 percent.
Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. They yield fell this week after investors shifted money out of stocks and into the safety of Treasurys on fears that Europe's debt crisis could worsen.
The Federal Reserve is also shifting more money into longer-term Treasurys to try to force mortgage rates lower. Treasury yields fall when buying activity increases.
Less Home Buying Than Expected
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that low rates have failed to spur the increase in home buying or mortgage refinancing that government officials had expected.
High unemployment and declining wages have made it harder for many people to qualify for loans. Many Americans don't want to sink money into a home that could lose value over the next three to four years. And most homeowners who can afford to refinance already have.
10 Cities Where Mortgages Are Staying Afloat
Mortgage Rates Stay Low, But Homebuyers Aren't Budging
> Pct. homes underwater: 6.58%
> 12-Month home price change: +6.97%
> Unemployment: 5.5%
> Homes built since 2000: 11%
The value of homes in the Hawaii region has gone up nearly 7% in the past 12 months, which is one of the biggest price increases in the country, according to enterprise risk management firm VeroFORECAST. Honolulu owes its strong housing market to a low unemployment rate — just 5.5% — as well as a general high demand for homes. Properties on the island have a much higher value than the U.S. average. According to the Census Bureau’s housing statistics, 58.3% of Honolulu’s homes are worth $500,000 or more, compared to the national average of just 10.5%.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.93%
> 12-Month home price change: +4.39%
> Unemployment: 7.8%
> Homes built since 2000: 6.7%
About 94% of all homes in the Pittsburgh region are more valuable than their mortgages. Homeowners in the region are fiscally sound. The 7.8% unemployment rate is significantly lower than the national average of 9.1%. In addition, the costs associated with owning a home – mortgages, insurance payments, and taxes – are lower than the national average. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, many are choosing to buy homes in the region because housing is affordable and foreclosures are relatively low. Last year, Forbes named Pittsburgh as the best place to buy a Home. This year, the city was rated second.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.71%
> 12-Month home price change: +0.83%
> Unemployment: 5%
> Homes built since 2000: 15.8%
Oklahoma City was rated by Forbes as the fourth best city to buy a home, citing the region’s good conditions for employment. Among the 372 Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the U.S., Oklahoma City has the 11th lowest unemployment rate, at just 5%. According to NewsOK, despite the relatively good condition of the local housing market, regional officials are still thankful for the changes to the Affordable Refinance Program.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.44%
> 12-Month home price change: -1.83%
> Unemployment: 7.3% (tied for 93rd lowest)
> Homes built since 2000: 10.6%
Lancaster, located in Pennsylvania’s Dutch country, has one of the healthiest housing markets in the country, with just 5.44% of homes with underwater mortgages. The region has low unemployment, and 95.5% of homes are occupied, compared to a national rate of 86.9%. This year, Forbes rated Lancaster as the 7th best place to buy a home, citing low unemployment and affordable housing.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.30%
> 12-Month home price change: -4.39%
> Unemployment: 8.1%
> Homes built since 2000: 21.7%
Only 9.1% of home sales in Hunstville, Alabama are made by owners who can no longer afford to make mortgage payments. Part of the reason for this is the relatively small expenses owners have to incur to keep the home, such as mortgage and insurance payments. In 53% of the region’s homes, these costs for homeowners are less than 20% of their annual income. In the U.S. as a whole, only 33% of homes are in that favorable position.
> Pct. homes underwater: 4.56%
> 12-Month home price change: +1.14%
> Unemployment: 6.6%
> Homes built since 2000: 21.6%
The expenses that come with owning a home include mortgage and insurance payments, real estate taxes, and heating costs. Nationwide, nearly 30% of homeowners pay more than 2,000 or more on such expenses. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, just 10% pay that much. Unemployment in the region is relatively high, at 10.4%, but low costs and rising home values in the region help keep more than 95% of the region’s mortgages above water.
> Pct. homes underwater: 4.22%
> 12-Month home price change: 3.92%
> Unemployment: 7.3%
> Homes built since 2000: 5.3%
Buffalo home values have been declining for years as businesses have slowly left the region. However, the housing market is beginning to pick up in the region. As reported in USA Today, the Buffalo housing market remained sluggish during the housing bubble, and so it didn’t suffer from the collapse most of the country experienced. In the article, Bonnie Clement, a local realtor, explains: “We’ve never had a market that has gone way over the top, and, therefore, we don’t have a market that’s now falling down.” In the past 12 month period, home values have increased by nearly 4%.
> Pct. homes underwater: 4.01%
> 12-Month home price change: -0.90%
> Unemployment: 6.7%
> Homes built since 2000: 9.6%
Just 4.01% of mortgaged homes in the Albany region are worth less than their mortgages. Like Buffalo, the region didn’t experience much of a housing boom with the rest of the nation, and so the market hasn’t suffered as much in the aftermath. Only 9.6% of currently standing homes were built in the past ten years, compared to a national average of 14.9%. Unemployment in the region is just 6.7%, and just 2.58% of home sales were made because owners could no longer afford upkeep.
> Pct. homes underwater: 3.89%
> 12-Month home price change: +5.73%
> Unemployment: 10.6%
> Homes built since 2000: 19.6%
In the past 12 months, home prices in El Paso have increased by 5.73%, while prices nationwide have dropped by 4.4%. The housing market in the region, according to the El Paso Times, is exceedingly tight. Just 8.2% of homes are vacant, compared to a national rate of 13.1%. According to the article, El Paso is seeing “Historically low home mortgage rates, including a drop below 4 percent for the first time ever early this month…” This has helped increase home value in the area.
> Pct. homes underwater: 3.41%
> 12-Month home price change: +0.25%
> Unemployment: 7.1%
> Homes built since 2000: 7.2%
Just 3.41% of mortgages in the Rochester, NY region are underwater mortgages. This is the lowest rate in the country. The story for Rochester is very much the same as its regional neighbors Albany and Buffalo. The housing boom failed to reach the area, and so very few new homes were built. In the U.S., 8.8% of all homes were built between 2000 and 2005. In Rochester, just 4.1% of current homes were built during that period. Foreclosure rates have been extremely low in the region. In the past recorded 12-month period, just 2.89% of home sales were of formerly foreclosed-upon homes.
The number of Americans who bought previously occupied homes fell in September and is on pace to match last year's dismal figures -- the worst in 13 years.
Sales of new homes rose last month after four straight monthly declines. But the increase was largely because builders cut their prices. And it followed a peak buying season that was the worst on records going back nearly 50 years.
A Run on Refinancing
The low rates have caused a modest boom in refinancing, but that benefit might be wearing off. Most people who can afford to refinance have already locked in rates below 5 percent.
Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks in the past year. Just five years ago they were closer to 6.5 percent. Ten years ago, they were above 8 percent.
The average rate on the five-year adjustable loan fell to 2.96 percent from 3.08 percent. That matches a record low hit four weeks ago.
The average rate on the one-year adjustable loan declined to 2.88 percent from 2.90 percent. It fell last month to 2.81 percent, the lowest on records dating to 1984.
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 the 30-year fixed mortgage fell from 0.8 to 0.7. The average fee on the 15-year fixed loan was unchanged at 0.7. The average fees on the five-year adjustable loan one-year adjustable loan were also unchanged at 0.6.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week.
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