Mortgage rates in the U.S. dropped to another record low, adding fuel to a housing market that’s been a key source of strength for the pandemic economy.
The average for a 30-year, fixed loan was 2.86%, down from 2.93% last week and the lowest in almost 50 years of data-keeping byFreddie Mac. It was the ninth time since the coronavirus started roiling financial markets that rates fell to a new low. The previous record, 2.88%, was reached in early August.
Cheap mortgages have ignited a housing rebound, driving sales of bothnew andexisting homes and putting money back into the pockets of borrowers who have been able to refinance.
Still, the rally faces challenges from persistentjob losses and an inventory shortage that’s pushing up prices, reducing the pool of people who can afford to buy a house.
“Heading into the fall, it will be difficult to sustain the growth momentum in purchases because the lack of supply is already exhibiting a constraint on sales activity,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in a statement Thursday.
Mortgage rates dipped below 3% for the first time in July and have continued sliding as the Federal Reserve keeps its benchmark rate near zero.
Based on the yield for 10-year Treasuries, which typically guides mortgage rates, borrowing costs could continue sliding, according to Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist atLendingTree.
“If the spread narrows to where it was before Covid, it can go as low as 2.3%,” he said.
The lower borrowing costs have led to a flood of applications for refinancing and new purchase loans, particularly as Americans look for more space for home offices and remote learning.
More than 19 million homeowners, the largest population ever, are still likely to benefit from refinancing, because they have good credit, at least 20% equity in their homes and can cut their rates by at least 0.75%, according toBlack Knight Inc. The average savings would be $299 a month, the industry tracking firm reported Thursday.
There was pent-up demand for housing when the pandemic hit, with millennials aging into homeownership. But with some sellers reluctant to homes on the market, inventory has been tight.
That’s helped prop up homebuilders, which saw their shares hammered when the coronavirus shut down the U.S. economy. An index that tracks the industry has gained nearly 150% since the stock market hit a bottom on March 23 and is trading close to a record high.
The question is if the housing boom can continue amid the economic fallout from the pandemic. Some potential buyers, eager to take advantage of low rates, might not get approved for loans, while higher prices are exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing.
Higher home prices are starting to erode the benefits of cheaper mortgages, according to George Ratiu, senior economist at Realtor.com.
“For many young, first-time buyers, the shift is reducing affordability, just as they are ready to embrace homeownership,” he said.
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