By Anna Bahney, CNN Business
Mortgage rates dropped again this week, after plunging nearly half a percentage point last week.
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.58% in the week ending November 23, down from 6.61% the week before, according to Freddie Mac. A year ago, the 30-year fixed rate was 3.10%.
Mortgage rates have risen throughout most of 2022, spurred by the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented campaign of hiking interest rates in order to tame soaring inflation. But last week, rates tumbled amid reports that indicated inflation may have finally reached its peak.
“This volatility is making it difficult for potential homebuyers to know when to get into the market, and that is reflected in the latest data which shows existing home sales slowing across all price points,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.
The average mortgage rate is based on mortgage applications that Freddie Mac receives from thousands of lenders across the country. The survey only includes borrowers who put 20% down and have excellent credit. But many buyers who put down less money upfront or have less than perfect credit will pay more than the average rate.
The average weekly rates, typically released by Freddie Mac on Thursday, are being released a day early due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
All eyes on inflation
Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on 10-year US Treasury bonds. As investors see or anticipate rate hikes, they make moves which send yields higher and mortgage rates rise.
The 10-year Treasury has been hovering in a lower range of 3.7% to 3.85% since a pair of inflation reports indicating prices rose at a slower pace than expected in October were released almost two weeks ago. That has led to a big reset in investors’ expectations about future interest rate hikes, said Danielle Hale, Realtor.com’s chief economist. Prior to that, the 10-year Treasury had risen above 4.2%.
However, the market may be a bit too quick to celebrate the improvement in inflation, she said.
At the Fed’s November meeting, chairman Jerome Powell pointed to the need for ongoing rate hikes to tame inflation.
“This could mean that mortgage rates may climb again, and that risk goes up if next month’s inflation reading comes in on the higher side,” Hale said.
Window of opportunity for borrowers
While it’s difficult to time the market in order to get a low mortgage rate, plenty of would-be homebuyers are seeing a window of opportunity.
“Following generally higher mortgage rates throughout the course of 2022, the recent swing in buyers’ favor is welcome and could save the buyer of a median-priced home more than $100 per month relative to what they would have paid when rates were above 7% just two weeks ago,” said Hale.
As a result of the drop in mortgage rates, both purchase and refinance applications picked up slightly last week. But refinance activity is still more than 80% below last year’s pace when rates were around 3%, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association weekly report.
However, with week-to-week swings in mortgage rates averaging nearly three times those seen in a typical year and home prices still historically high, many potential shoppers have pulled back, said Hale.
“A long-term housing shortage is keeping home prices high, even as the number of homes on the market for sale has increased, and buyers and sellers may find it more challenging to align expectations on price,” she said.
New home prices hit record high
In a separate report released Wednesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the US Census Bureau reported that new home sales jumped in October, rising 7.5% from September, but were down 5.8% from a year ago.
While that was higher than predicted and bucked a trend of recently falling sales, it’s still below a year ago. Home building has been historically low for a decade and builders have been pulling back as the housing market shows signs of slowing.
“New home sales beat expectations, but a reversal of the general downward trend is doubtful for now given high mortgage rates and builder pessimism,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.
Despite a general trend of falling sales, prices of new homes remain at record highs.
The median price for a newly constructed home was $493,000 up 15%, from a year ago — the highest price on record.
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