Mortgage demand stalls at a level not seen since 1996

A “For Sale” sign hangs in front of a home in San Mateo County, California, Aug. 22, 2023.

Liu Guanguan | China News Service | Getty Images

Higher mortgage rates continue to take their toll on mortgage demand, especially for refinancing.

Total mortgage application volume dropped 0.8% last week compared to the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances — $726,200 or less — increased to 7.27% from 7.21%, with points increasing to 0.72 from 0.69, including the origination fee, for loans with a 20% down payment.

Demand for refinances dropped 5% for the week and was 31% lower than the same week one year ago. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 29.1% of total applications from 30.0% the previous week. As a comparison, at this time of year in 2020, when pandemic monetary policy had interest rates around 3%, the refinance share of mortgage applications was 63%.

Applications for mortgages to purchase a home rose 1% week to week but were 27% lower than the same week one year ago. The adjustable-rate mortgage share of total applications rose, signaling that potential buyers are using all the tools they can to lower their monthly payments. ARMs offer lower interest rates but are deemed riskier because their rates are fixed for a shorter term.

“Mortgage applications decreased for the seventh time in eight weeks, reaching the lowest level since 1996,” said Joel Kan, a Mortgage Bankers Association economist, in a release. “Given how high rates are right now, there continues to be minimal refinance activity and a reduced incentive for homeowners to sell and buy a new home at a higher rate.”

Mortgage rates remained high to start this week, according to a separate survey from Mortgage News Daily, but that could change following the release of the monthly Consumer Price Index on Wednesday.

“While it’s always possible that big-ticket data will thread the needle and result in minimal movement, there’s little question that any big departure from expectations will rock the bond boat for better or worse,” wrote Matthew Graham, chief operating officer at Mortgage News Daily.

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