Rates on 30-year and 15-year mortgages dropped for a third straight week to levels that home buyers have not been able to take advantage of since spring.

Rates on benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgages fell to 6.01 percent, from 6.21 percent last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday in its weekly nationwide survey. It was the lowest level since mid-April.

Thirty-year rates hit a low this year of 5.38 percent the week ended March 18.

"This is good news for those who are still house-hunting, as lower rates mean more-affordable housing," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac's chief economist.

Rates for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages dropped to 5.42 percent this week, from 5.62 percent last week. It was the lowest level since the end of April.

Rates on one-year adjustable rate mortgages also were down, falling to 4.05 percent, from 4.19 percent the previous week.

A year ago, rates on 30-year mortgages averaged 5.4 percent, with 15-year mortgages at 4.75 percent and one-year ARMs at 3.49 percent.

"Home construction remains strong and home sales continue to break records easily," Nothaft said. He expects total home sales to end the year about 2 percent higher than last year's record level.

Mortgage rates had been steadily rising, reflecting a brightening economy and the anticipation of an interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve.

Contributing to this week's drop in mortgage rates was a weak employment report, released last week by the Labor Department, showing job growth had slowed in June, economists said.

The nationwide averages for mortgage rates do not include fees known as points. All loans carried an average fee of 0.6 point this week.

COMPANIES . . . Owens & Co. Realtors of Roanoke has merged with Fairfax-based Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., the nation's largest privately owned real estate brokerage. The deal adds six offices to Long & Foster's network, for a total of 205. Founders Ron and Jeff Owens will remain with the company.

PERSONNEL . . . Trammell Crow Residential has named Jon Conte president of construction for the company's mid-Atlantic division. Conte previously worked for developer Archstone Smith. Crow's Rockville office also announced Denis Dunathan has been promoted to senior project manager for mid-Atlantic construction. Krissy Kahler has been promoted to development associate and Jennifer Taylor to construction coordinator.

EVENTS . . . "Sea Ranch: An Early Story of Ecology and Design" is the subject of a lecture Monday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the National Building Museum (401 F St. NW, Washington). The program details development of the Sea Ranch coastal community in northern California. Admission is $15, $10 for students. Registration is required. Call 202-272-2448 or visit www.nbm.org.

Send realty announcements by e-mail to renotes@washpost.com, by fax to 202-334-5059 or by mail to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, Att: Business News/Real Estate Notes.