Weekly Mortgage Applications Show Real Recovery in Homebuying

Homebuyers appear to be heading slowly back into the market, as the coronavirus-stricken economy begins to reopen.

Total mortgage application volume rose 0.1% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index. The gain was driven entirely by buyers.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home rose for the third straight week, up 7% from a week earlier. Purchase volume was still 19% lower annually, but that annual loss is shrinking by the week. Just three weeks ago, purchase volume was down 35% annually. Demand last week was led by strong growth in Arizona, Texas and California.

Buyers are responding to incredibly low interest rates as well as to new technology and processes that allow them to house-hunt from afar. Agents are offering virtual showings or live tours over apps like Facetime or Zoom. For empty homes, they’re also allowing do-it-yourself tours, using high-tech lock-boxes that buyers can access from their smartphones. 

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of up to $510,400 fell to 3.40% from 3.43%. The new rate is a record low for the weekly survey, which began in 1990. Points decreased to 0.30 from 0.34, including the origination fee, for loans with a 20% down payment.

Lower rates are not boosting refinance volume. Those applications decreased 2% for the week but were 210% higher than one year ago, when rates were over a full percentage point higher. 

“Despite lower rates, refinance applications dropped, as many lenders are offering higher rates for refinances than for purchase loans, and others are suspending the availability of cash-out refinance loans because of their inability to sell them to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s senior vice president and chief economist.

The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 70% of total applications from 71.6 % the previous week.

Posted on cnbc.com on 5/6/2020.