Mortgage rates around the country fell sharply this week, providing house hunters with an incentive to become home owners.

The average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was 6.13 percent this week, down from 6.31 percent last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday in its weekly nationwide survey of mortgage rates.

This week's rate was the lowest since the week ending Oct. 11, when rates on the 30-year mortgage dropped to 5.98 percent, the lowest level since Freddie Mac began tracking the rates in 1971. That marked the sixth time this year that 30-year rates reached a new low.

"With mortgage rates falling this week from already affordable levels, interest in home buying will remain strong coming into and through the holiday season," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac's chief economist.

Low mortgage rates this year have been feeding a refinancing boom. Extra cash or savings from refinancing deals is helping to support consumer spending, including home buying, even as consumer confidence erodes and the job market remains sluggish. Home sales are expected to post records this year.

Rates for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, often used for refinancing home loans, also dropped this week, to 5.51 percent, compared with 5.70 percent last week.

For one-year adjustable-rate mortgages, rates dipped to 4.25 percent, compared with 4.30 percent last week.

This week's mortgage rates do not include add-on fees known as points. Each loan type carried an average 0.6 point fee this week.

A year ago, 30-year mortgages averaged 6.56 percent, 15-year mortgages were at 6.04 percent and one-year ARMs stood at 5.26 percent.

EVENT . . . The American Institute of Architects plans a seminar on mold at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the AIA/DC Chapter House, 1777 Church St. NW, Washington. The breakfast seminar is to be led by Lanny Helms of Professional Services. Discussion topics include the causes and cures of mold and mildew problems, and the effect on indoor air quality and architectural design. Cost: $5; registration required. Participants in the program may earn an AIA learning credit. For information, call 202-667-1798.

PERSONNEL . . . The Washington Building Congress's officers for 2002-03 include Gayle Geoghegan, Wedgco Engineering, president; Brad Bolino, John J. Kirlin Inc., president elect; Brian Burns, Dynalectric Co., vice president; John Hardy, Capital Lighting and Supply, vice president; Don Owen, P&P Contractors, vice president; Chris Bradford, Carlson Construction, treasurer; Paul Varela,Watt, Tieder, Hoffar & Fitzgerald, secretary; and George Domurot, Clark Construction Group, past president. . . . Nathan Booth of ERA Executive Realty in Falls Church was named the 2003 president-elect for the Virginia Association of Realtors.

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