Mortgage applications down 6% as rising rates take a toll

As pumpkins pop up on front porches across the nation, the highest interest rates in a month are scaring consumers away from the mortgage market.

Total mortgage application volume fell 6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week ended Oct. 7, compared to the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 3.68 percent, from 3.62 percent, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio loans.

Real estate agent shows a home in Venice Calif.

Anne Cusack | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images
Real estate agent shows a home in Venice Calif.

“As incoming economic data reassured investors regarding U.S. growth, and financial markets returned to viewing a December Fed hike as increasingly likely, mortgage rates rose to their highest level in a month last week,” said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist at the MBA. “Total and refinance application volume dropped to their lowest levels since June as a result.”

Applications to refinance a home loan, which are highly rate-sensitive, have been falling for weeks, and took another 8 percent dive last week, seasonally adjusted. Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell a smaller 3 percent for the week and are 27 percent higher than one year ago. Comparisons to last year may be skewed, however, as new mortgage rules went into effect last October that pulled demand forward and then delayed mortgage processing.

The Federal Housing Administration share of total applications increased to 10.9 percent from 10.0 percent the week before, which may indicate more first-time buyers entering the market. FHA loans require just 3.5 percent down payments. First-time buyers are traditionally more active in the fall, as they are less likely to be large families, influenced by school calendars.

The drop in mortgage application volume shows how sensitive today’s buyers and borrowers are to the slightest rate moves. Interest rates are still low by historical standards. Home prices, however, are accelerating again, and that squeezes the margin for borrowers. New listings are also not coming on the market fast enough to meet the pent-up demand for housing.

Interest rates continued to rise this week, as volatility ruled and roiled financial markets. From an increasingly divided Fed to an unprecedented political situation, investors are increasingly nervous. Later Wednesday, the release of the minutes of the latest Fed meeting, where three governors dissented, will undoubtedly move rates decidedly in one direction or another yet again.