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  • Total mortgage application volume fell 0.9% last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  • Mortgage rates were essentially flat during the week.
  • Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell 3% for the week.
People wait to visit a house for sale in Floral Park, Nassau County, New York.
People wait to visit a house for sale in Floral Park, Nassau County, New York.
Wang Ying | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

It was a mixed bag for mortgage demand last week, as higher rates did nothing for refinances and homebuyers faced more steep competition for a pitiful few homes for sale.

Total mortgage application volume fell 0.9% last week from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.

Boston Real Estate Interest Rates 3.18%

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) moved very slightly higher to 3.18% from 3.17%. Points increased to 0.34 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment.

With no particular incentive to make a move, demand for mortgage refinances was essentially flat, rising 0.1% from the previous week. Application volume was 17% lower than the same week one year ago, even though rates were higher a year ago. That may be because so many borrowers have already refinanced at the record low rates seen last fall. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 61% of total applications from 60.6% the previous week

Boston Real Estate Mortgage Applications

Mortgage applications to purchase a home, which are less sensitive to weekly rate moves, fell 3% for the week. They were 24% higher than the same week one year ago, but that annual comparison is skewed. The housing market stalled in April and May of last year, when the pandemic started, and then rebounded dramatically in the summer.

“Both conventional and government purchase applications declined, but average loan sizes increased for each loan type,” noted Joel Kan, an MBA economist. “This is a sign that the competitive purchase market, driven by low housing inventory and high demand, is pushing prices higher and weighing down on activity.”

Higher prices and differing supply are also affecting the mix of activity, with much more growth in purchase loans with larger-than-average balances. Home sales on the high end of the market are soaring because there is far more available for sale. The housing shortage is most acute on the low end, where demand is strongest.

So far this week, mortgage rates have not moved much, but that is likely to change with new economic data coming out. Employment reports on Thursday and Friday could move interest rates in either direction.

Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell takes questions from reporters after the U.S. central bank announced the decision to leave interest rates unchanged as the coronavirus economic recovery is underway.

Boston Real Estate News: FED not raising interest rates

The Federal Reserve restated its intent to keeping a lid on interest rates, saying the pandemic “continues to weigh on the economy, and risks to the economic outlook remain.”

Rates on 10-year Treasurys, a benchmark for mortgages, dropped after the Fed’s announcement, as investor demand for bonds sagged in reaction to the Fed’s dovish announcement.

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee issued a statement today saying it intends to keep short-term rates, which the Fed has direct control over, near 0 percent until unemployment falls and inflation “is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time.”

Although the Fed doesn’t have direct control over long-term rates, it can influence them by buying government bonds and mortgage-backed securities. The Fed said it will continue buying at least $80 billion in Treasury securities and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities every month “until substantial further progress has been made” toward hitting its employment and inflation goals.

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