After a two-week break, U.S. mortgage rates began climbing again this week, a new report shows.
The higher 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is becoming yet another headwind for the shaky economy amid the Federal Reserve’s war on inflation.
The central bank has been hiking its benchmark interest rate in response to rising consumer costs. That, in turn, is making it more expensive for consumers to borrow money for major purchases like homes.
The monthly mortgage payment for a median-priced home has risen to around $2,000, according to Realtor.com. That’s $700 more than it was last year.
“Many homebuyers are finding that their budgets are no longer sufficient to purchase a home and are hitting ‘pause’ on their search,” says George Ratiu, Realtor.com senior economist.
30-year fixed-rate mortgages
The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 5.51% this week, up from 5.30% a week ago, according to the latest report from mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac. Last year at this time, the rate was averaging 2.88%.
“Mortgage rates are volatile as economic growth slows due to fiscal and monetary drags,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.
“With rates the highest in over a decade, home prices at escalated levels and inflation continuing to impact consumers, affordability remains the main obstacle to homeownership for many Americans.”
Over the past 12 months, prices on gas, groceries and other expenses spiked by 9.1%, the largest annual increase since 1981, the Labor Department reported this week.
“With inflation approaching a double-digit pace, there’s growing pressure on the Federal Reserve to take a more aggressive stance in its monetary tightening,” Ratiu says.
The Fed will announce its plan for rates later this month — and it’s not likely to be pretty.
“The mortgage market had already factored in several additional rounds of the Fed’s rate hike, but may have to adjust a bit higher based on today’s uncomfortable inflation rate,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
15-year fixed-rate mortgages
The interest rate on a 15-year fixed-rate loan is averaging 4.67%, up from 4.45% last week, Freddie Mac says. This time last year, the 15-year rate was averaging 2.22%.
Mortgage rates fell to record lows nearly a year into the pandemic as the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to boost the weakening economy. Economic activity rebounded stronger than expected, and home prices soared to new highs amid demand for housing.
As monthly payments rise, qualifying for a mortgage is getting increasingly difficult.
In April 2021, a household needed to earn a minimum of $79,570 to afford a median-priced home. Just a year later, that number hit $107,500, explained Christopher Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, during a congressional hearing on the housing crisis this week.
“The impact of sharply higher interest rates on affordability has been compounded by the outsized growth in home prices over the past year,” Herbert said.
5-year adjustable-rate mortgages
The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM, rose to 4.35% this week, up from 4.19% last week. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.47%.
Rates on adjustable mortgages are tied to the prime rate. These loans start off with lower interest costs, but they can surge once the initial fixed-rate period ends.
An argument for taking out an ARM in an environment when rates are increasing is — to put it simply — what goes up must come down.
Many borrowers with new ARMs are hoping they’ll be able to refinance into a lower, fixed-rate mortgage by the time their five-year term expires. Or they might only plan to own their house for a few years.
When will it get easier to buy in this market?
For months, the biggest hindrance to buying a home was the limited supply of properties for sale. That’s starting to change.
Those who want to sell (and are lucky enough to find a new place to live) are listing their homes in hopes of earning a windfall on the sale.
Yet with fewer people able to qualify for a sizable loan, the balance of power is shifting from sellers to buyers who have a fair amount of cash on hand.
The share of homeowners who have cut their prices is more than double what it was at this time last year, according to Realtor.com.
“We can expect the pace of sales to continue to slow as we move into the second half of the year and markets regain a much-needed sense of balance,” Ratiu says.
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