Mortgage rates fall to new record low — here’s why some loan applicants won’t be offered them

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Mortgage rates have dipped to a record low for the second time in as many months amid the global coronavirus outbreak.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to an average of 3.23% during the week ending April 30, a decrease of 10 basis points from the previous week, Freddie Mac FMCC, -1.84% reported this week. This represents the lowest level since Freddie Mac began tracking this data starting in 1971. A year ago, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.14%.

Previously, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit an all-time low back in early March, when it dropped to 3.29%. Before that, the lowest rates recorded were seen back in November 2012 in the wake of the recession, when the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate home loan fell to 3.31%.

Meanwhile, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped nine basis points to an average of 2.77%. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage averaged 3.14%, down 14 basis points from a week ago.

Freddie Mac’s report is based on a survey of lenders, and it reflects the dollar volume of conventional loans, meaning loans eligible for purchase by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae FNMA, -1.16%. The survey therefore does not reflect movements in rates for loans backed by other agencies, such as the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also doesn’t include rates for jumbo loans.

But whether borrowers get a loan featuring a record-low rate will depend on a number of factors. “While some borrowers could be quoted rates close to the lowest they’ve ever been, others either with less-than-excellent credit scores or seeking an atypical loan type — like jumbo or FHA loans — may be offered a much-higher rate,” said Matthew Speakman, an economist with real-estate firm Zillow ZG, -3.42% .

In recent weeks, some banks have begun tightening the standards prospective borrowers must meet in order to get a home loan. Mortgage companies have become stingier in terms of who they’ll lend to because of the risk posed by the current economic environment.

There’s an increased chance that a borrower could lose their job soon after getting a mortgage, which would make it much more difficult for them to make their monthly payments. Lenders are eager to avoid that at a time when some 3.5 million homeowners have already requested relief from making their monthly mortgage payments.

Nevertheless, in spite of the challenges people may face getting a low-interest rate mortgage, Americans continue to apply for new home loans in droves. “These low rates are driving higher refinance activity and have modestly helped improve purchase demand from their extremely low levels in mid-April,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Last week, the volume of refinance applications was more than three times larger than it was a year ago — a reflection of the appeal of low rates, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The number of Americans applying for loans used to purchase homes, while 20% down from last year, had nonetheless improved after hitting a five-year low.

But low rates won’t be enough to change the tides in the housing market, experts said. The number of listings of homes for sale continues to decrease as home buyers and sellers across America have grown wary of making such a large transaction given the state of the economy.

“Many buyers — stuck at home and worried about their jobs — have hit the ‘pause’ button,” George Ratiu, senior economist at Realtor.com, said. “With financing less of an incentive and inventory disappearing, we will see a sharp contraction in sales over the next two months.”

Originally Published on MarketWatch

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