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Mortgage rates remain under 3 percent for third week in a row

The 30-year fixed-rate average fell for the fourth time in the past five weeks and now stands at 2.96 percent. (Kathy Orton/The Washington Post)

At the start of the year, it looked like mortgage rates were headed nowhere but up. But lately, they have backslid.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average slipped to 2.96 percent with an average 0.6 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount. They are in addition to the interest rate.) It was 2.98 percent a week ago and 3.26 percent a year ago. The 30-year fixed average has dropped in four of the past five weeks.

Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage investor, aggregates rates from around 80 lenders across the country to come up with weekly national averages. It uses rates for high-quality borrowers with strong credit scores and large down payments. Because of the criteria, these rates are not available to every borrower.

The survey is based on home purchase mortgages, which means rates for refinances may be higher. The price adjustment for refinance transactions that went into effect in December is adding to the cost. The adjustment, which applies to all Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinances, is 0.5 percent of the loan amount. That works out to $1,500 on a $300,000 loan.

The 15-year fixed-rate average slipped to 2.3 percent with an average 0.6 point. It was 2.31 percent a week ago and 2.73 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average rose to 2.7 percent with an average 0.3 point. It was 2.64 percent a week ago and 3.14 percent a year ago.

“Mortgage rates fell slightly again this week, pushing rates to their lowest level since mid-to-late February,” said Matthew Speakman, a Zillow economist. “With few surprising economic data or pandemic-related developments this week, mortgage rates and the bond yields that tend to influence them saw little reason to move significantly over the past seven days.”

For the past three weeks, the yield on the 10-year Treasury has hovered between 1.56 percent and 1.65 percent. It ended the day at 1.59 percent on Wednesday.

The 10-year Treasury yield “has been in a narrow range for the last few weeks,” said Mitch Ohlbaum, a mortgage banker at Macoy Capital Partners. “Treasurys were poised to rise but were pared by the reporting of new jobs by ADP, which fell short of estimates. The Fed and the market have been talking about inflation, and I don’t think anyone believes the recent increase is anything more than a momentary blip on the inflation radar.”

But Speakman says investors’ wait-and-see attitude may be coming to an end.

“This period of relative calm will be put to the test in the coming days,” he said. “April employment figures and inflation data, two key gauges of the economy’s path forward, are due this week, and stronger-than-expected readings of either — or both — reports will likely revert mortgage rates back upward,” Speakman said., which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found more than two-thirds of the experts it surveyed expect rates to remain about the same in the coming week.

“Markets are confused and bouncy,” said Dick Lepre, senior loan officer at RPM Mortgage. “Confusion stems from lack of consensus as to whether we are about to have significant inflation versus those who believe the Fed’s view that inflation will be transitory. For the next few weeks, attention will be focused on how much more debt the administration and Congress decide to take on. The bigger the increase in the debt ceiling the bigger the hit to rates will be.”

Meanwhile, mortgage applications were flat last week. According to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the market composite index — a measure of total loan application volume — decreased 0.9 percent from a week earlier. The purchase index fell 3 percent from the previous week, and the refinance index ticked up 0.1 percent. The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 61 percent of applications.

“Fewer people are getting mortgages than a few weeks ago, even though rates fell slightly this week,” said Holden Lewis, home and mortgage specialist at NerdWallet. “House prices are rising faster than mortgage rates are falling, pushing homes past the point of affordability for some would-be buyers. And most homeowners who were going to refinance have done it already.”

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