After rising three out of the past four weeks, fixed mortgage rates plunged to a new low.

The 30-year fixed-rate average, the most popular mortgage product, sank to its lowest level on record this week. It fell to 2.86 percent with an average 0.8 point this week, according to the latest Freddie Mac data. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount and are in addition to the interest rate.) It was 2.93 percent a week ago and 3.56 percent a year ago.

The 30-year fixed rate has not been this low since Freddie Mac began tracking mortgage rates in 1971. It surpassed the previous low of 2.88 percent, set last month. This is the ninth time since March that the 30-year fixed rate has fallen to a new record.

Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage investor, aggregates rates from about 80 lenders across the country to come up with weekly national average mortgage rates. It uses rates for high-quality borrowers who tend to have strong credit scores and large down payments. These rates are not available to every borrower.

The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 2.37 percent with an average 0.7 point. It was 2.42 percent a week ago and 3.09 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average jumped to 3.11 percent with an average 0.2 point. It was 2.93 percent a week ago and 3.36 percent a year ago.

“Mortgage rates have hit another record low due to a late summer slowdown in the economic recovery,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement.

This week’s stock market swoon helped push down mortgage rates. The three major U.S. indexes posted sharp losses this week as technology stocks were battered.

“Today’s Freddie Mac report shows the 30-year fixed mortgage rate declined due to investors moving away from the steep drop in equity markets and towards the relative safety of bonds,” said George Ratiu, Realtor.com senior economist. “Low rates continue to provide strong tail wind for real estate markets, stoking demand.”

The stock market bounced back Wednesday, which may mean the dip in mortgage rates will be short-lived.

Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found the experts it surveyed evenly divided on where rates are headed in the coming week. About one-third say rates will go up, another third say they will go down and another third say they will remain about the same.

Ken Johnson, a real estate economist at Florida Atlantic University, expects long-term rates will move up slightly.

“The Fed’s open market activities remain consistent, serving to keep long-term mortgage rates near record lows,” Johnson said. “Is this the week, however, that default risk begins to work its way into long-term mortgage rates?”

Logan Mohtashami, a housing analyst at HousingWire, predicts they will be unchanged.

“Even with some movement in the stock market and some vaccine headlines, the bond market has been stable and in a tight range,” Mohtashami said. “The economic data has been holding up well considering what has happened in 2020. We still don't have a full disaster relief deal, but if we get some clarity on that, it should move the bond market.”

Meanwhile, mortgages applications rebounded last week. According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — increased 2.9 percent from a week earlier. The purchase index rose 3 percent from the previous week and was 40 percent higher than a year ago. The refinance index also rose 3 percent and was 60 percent higher than a year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 63.1 percent of applications.

“The mortgage market headed into the Labor Day weekend with another strong week of activity, as applications for both refinances and home purchases increased on a weekly and annual basis,” said Bob Broeksmit, MBA president and CEO. “Despite high unemployment and overall economic uncertainty, applications to buy a home have now increased year-over-year for four straight months. Record-low mortgage rates are increasing the purchasing power of prospective buyers, and rising home prices and the demand for larger homes pushed the average purchase loan size last week to a new MBA survey high of $368,600.”

The MBA also released its mortgage credit availability index (MCAI) that showed credit availability decreased in August. The MCAI sank 4.7 percent to 120.9 last month. A decrease in the MCAI indicates lending standards are tightening, while an increase signals they are loosening.

“Mortgage credit supply fell to its lowest level since March 2014, driven by a reduction in supply from both conventional and government segments of the market,” Joel Kan, an MBA economist, said in a statement. “Credit continues to tighten because of uncertainty still looming around the health of the job market, even as other data on loan applications and home sales show a sharp rebound. A further reduction in loan programs with low credit scores, high [loan-to-value] and reduced documentation requirements also continued to drive the overall decline in credit availability."

Jumbo loans have been particularly difficult to obtain. Loans for amounts above the limit set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency — in 2020, it is $510,400 for most of the country and $765,600 for areas with high home values — are categorized as jumbo loans.

“Jumbo credit availability has fallen around 59 percent since the pre-pandemic months, and data from MBA’s weekly applications survey showed that jumbo mortgage rates stayed over 30 basis points higher than conforming rates in August, which is another indication of the reduced investor appetite for those loans,” Kan said.

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