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If buying a house is a such a good deal, why aren’t more people doing it?

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It’s now cheaper to buy than rent in 98 out of 100 of the biggest metro areas in the country, according to Trulia, a real-estate search engine. But Americans aren’t jumping at the opportunity to buy cheaply. In fact, mortgage applications keep falling nationwide, dropping 7.4 percent last week and 2.8 percent over the past four weeks, according to Mortgage Bankers Association data flagged by the Real Deal. Refinancing also fell 9.3 percent in the past week. MIKE BLAKE REUTERS

The recent decline is partly linked to rising mortgage rates, which are starting to inch up from historic lows. But other factors are also responsible: mortgage credit is still tight, Americans are still cash-strapped, potential homebuyers are still wary, and it’s unclear whether housing prices have hit bottom yet. As a result, many creditworthy Americans seem either unable or unwilling to jump in, even as rents keep rising nationwide.

The silver lining is that refinancing activity has risen sharply in a few states that were hit hardest by the housing bust. In January, the MBA notes, “Florida was up 49 percent, Arizona was up 61 percent, and Nevada was up 71 percent.” The group believes the jump is largely due to the Obama administration’s HARP program, which the White House recently expanded to spur refinancing and aid the housing recovery.

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