Weekly rates on 30-year mortgages have reached a new low for Freddie Mac's 32 years of record-keeping for the third time this year.

The average interest rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages was 5.79 percent this week, Freddie Mac said Thursday in its weekly survey. The previous low rate was last week's 5.84 percent, and before that it was the rate of 5.85 percent for the week ended Jan. 3.

This week's rate was the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking 30-year rates in 1971. Records that reach back earlier than Freddie Mac's indicate that rate is the lowest since the early 1960s.

Rates for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, often used refinancing, averaged 5.14 percent this week, compared with 5.21 percent last week. The new rate was the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking 15-year mortgages in 1991.

Rates for one-year adjustable-rate mortgages, however, rose to 3.83 percent, up slightly from 3.81 percent last week.

Low mortgage rates propelled sales of both new and existing homes to record levels last year and have made for brisk home-mortgage refinancing activity. The Mortgage Bankers Association of America said total mortgage applications filed last week rose by 5.5 percent. Refinancing activity accounted for 75.3 percent of total applications, compared with 72.5 percent the previous week.

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

A year ago, rates on 30-year mortgages averaged 6.80 percent, 15-year mortgages were at 6.28 percent and one-year adjustable mortgages stood at 4.94 percent.

Low mortgage rates should continue to support the housing market, economists said.

Existing-home sales, the biggest part of the housing market, soared to a record monthly level in January. New-home sales, however, plunged in January after hitting an all-time monthly high level in December.

MERGER . . . The Real Estate Group, made up of Re/Max Horizons, Re/Max Capital Realtors and Re/Max Elite Properties in Northern Virginia and Washington, merged with Re/Max Professionals in Maryland. The Real Estate Group is the largest Re/Max organization in the mid-Atlantic region. The companies combined represent more than 400 sales associates in 11 offices, and closings from more than 7,200 sales totaling $1.9 billion in 2002.

AWARDS . . . Todd Ray of Studio 27 in the District was named as one of five national recipients of a 2003 Young Architects Award by the American Institute of Architects.

EVENT . . . The Northern Virginia Building Industry Association's Real Estate Outlook Conference was rescheduled for 7:30 to 11 a.m. April 1 at the Fairview Park Marriott, 3111 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church. Speakers are to include David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders; Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University; Dave Berson of Fannie Mae; the board chairmen of Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties; and Gary Garczynski, former president of the national builders association. For information, call Tara Moynihan at 703-817-0154.

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