Mortgage rates hit a new historic low this week, averaging 3.89 percent for 30-year fixed-rate loans and beating the previous record — matched just the week before — of 3.91 percent, according to weekly survey data released Thursday by Freddie Mac.
Early into 2012 rates remain well below where they were last year at this time, when the average 30-year rate was 4.71 percent, according to Freddie Mac. The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has remained below 4 percent for six straight weeks.
The average interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, which some homeowners are using to refinance existing loans, also dropped. During the past week, they averaged 3.16 percent, down from 3.23 percent the previous week, according to the survey.
Despite the low rates, the housing market in many parts of the country remains hobbled as would-be sellers have decided that now is not the time to put property on the market. In the Washington area, for instance, there were 22 percent fewer homes for sale in December than at the same time in 2010, according to the RBI Pending Home Sale Index.
The toll that foreclosures are taking on the housing market, however, has waned. According to a Thursday report from the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac, 1.9 million homes entered the foreclosure process in 2011, the lowest level since 2007, when the recession began.
Similarly, the portion of local homes that are on the market because of foreclosure has dropped. Only one in 20 active homes for sale in the Washington area in December was a foreclosure, an 11 percent decrease from 2010, according to the RBI index.
Some economists believe that there’s another wave of foreclosures coming as states attorneys general are negotiating federal and state settlements with big banks on mortgage fraud. Banks and courts have frozen foreclosures in several states as authorities investigate mortgage company abuses.