Mortgage rates declined this week, giving a boost to buyer affordability, Freddie Mac reports in its weekly mortgage market survey. Since the beginning of this year, 30-year rates have fallen nearly 40 basis points, giving a boost to the housing market. NAR reported this week that existing home sales had increased 4% in February over January and are up 11%from last year.
The economy has defied almost every forecast. Analysts are debating the probability of a recession rather than the progress of the recovery. Instead of raising interest rates, the central bank is veering in a far different direction, hoping not to cut them. It is yet another surprise ripple effect of the global economic slowdown. For many of us who have benefited from a collapse in gas prices, interest rates have plunged on mortgage and auto loans. The decline in rates comes as most of the readings on the global economy have been glum. China’s economic growth is starting to plateau, striking fear in investors around the world. The recoveries in Europe and Japan are stalling, and policymakers are having a harder time jump-starting them. The upside with all of that is ultra-low rates. Analysts are wary of predicting how long this grace period will last, but many consumers are welcoming the extension of easy money that many feared had passed them by. The drop helps to create some breathing room in the household budget. Since Jan. 1, the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage has dropped from 4.01 to 3.62%, according to Freddie Mac. Mortgage rates have sunk to levels not seen in nearly a year and are close to their all time low, causing economists to reduce their forecasts for rates in 2016.
Home buyers are trying to find the perfect time to buy or refinance. Many face confusion over when to do this and some people who rushed into the market because they thought rates were going to spike may now be wondering if it’s time to refinance.
And it’s not just mortgage rates that have moved lower. The cost of auto loans has also fallen since the end of last year, providing another boost to an industry that has enjoyed record sales.
Meanwhile, even though the sharp drop in oil prices is wreaking havoc on energy companies, lower gas prices mean consumers have more money in their wallets. The average cost of a gallon of gas fell from $2.14 at the end of December to a low of $1.83 earlier this month, a 14% drop. Gas prices have edged up since then but are below December’s level.
Not everyone has been able to benefit from the recent decline in mortgage rates. Tighter lending standards mean many potential buyers might have trouble qualifying for loans. And those who are eligible may have already taken advantage of years of low rates. About 3/4 of U.S. homeowners with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages issued by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are paying 4% or lower.