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Mortgage rates nose-dive to new low and bring out the buyers

Doug Whiteman
Mortgage rates nose-dive to new low and bring out the buyers

Mortgage interest rates have gone from astonishingly low to almost ridiculously low in a closely followed survey that's been monitoring rates for almost half a century.

Extremely low rates are pulling would-be homebuyers out of COVID-19 lockdown and into the housing market, and the result is what mortgage giant Freddie Mac is calling a "remarkable turnaround" for mortgage borrowing.

Homeowners are clinching rock-bottom rates, too, and are saving tens of thousands of dollars by refinancing.

Average mortgage rates skid to new record low

1599686sv / Shutterstock
Mortgage rates have hit another new all-time low

Mortgage rates dropped to an average 3.15% for a 30-year fixed-rate home loan in the week ending May 28, down from the previous week's 3.24%, Freddie Mac reported on Thursday.

"The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has again hit the lowest level in our survey’s nearly 50-year history, breaking the record for the third time in just the last few months," says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist.

The survey rates come with an average 0.7 point. Last year at this time, the typical rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was a steeper 3.99%.

The benchmark mortgage rate hasn't gone any higher than 3.33%, on average, since the beginning of April, and Freddie Mac predicts rates will stay low throughout the year. The firm is forecasting that 30-year mortgage rates will average 3.3% during 2020, way down from last year's 3.9%.

But researchers at Realtor.com have predicted that average rates "may slide under 3% by the end of the year," and some sub-3% rates are already out there. You just have to know where to find them.

Brand-new research from LendingTree has found different lenders can offer the same borrower rates that vary by 1 full percentage point or more, but if you shop around you can reduce your total interest costs by up to $52,000.

Homebuying is on the rebound

Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock
Homebuyers are venturing out of coronavirus lockdown.

Tumbling mortgage rates are drawing out hunkered-down homebuyers: Khater says demand for mortgages to buy homes has made a "remarkable turnaround given the sharp contraction in economic activity."

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday that applications for purchase loans jumped 9% in the week ending May 22 and have grown 54% since early April.

As low rates heat up the housing market, multiple offers and escalation clauses are starting to occur again, says Corey Burr, senior vice president with Sotheby's International Realty in Chevy Chase, Maryland. A buyer who submits an offer with an escalation clause expresses a willingness to go higher if someone else offers more.

Real estate brokerage Redfin reports its agents were drawn into bidding wars with 41% of the offers they wrote during a recent four-week period. One Redfin agent in the Seattle area said a suburban home that hadn't been updated since the 1960s drew 24 offers.

Meanwhile, homeowners are refinancing into cheap mortgage rates to chop down their monthly payments and interest costs. With so many Americans swapping out their mortgages, Khater notes that the average refi loan size has fallen by $70,000 this year.

"This means a broader base of borrowers are taking advantage of the record low rate environment, which will benefit the economy," he says.

Other mortgage rates this week

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Rates on other types of mortgages also are down this week.

Rates on other popular types of mortgage loans also have dipped, according to Freddie Mac.

The average for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage has dropped to 2.62%, from 2.70% the previous week, the survey says. Fifteen-year loans are a popular refinance option and were averaging 3.46% one year ago.

Rates on 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages are down, too. Those loans are commonly known as "ARMs" and have rates that are fixed for five years and then can adjust up or down every year.

ARMs are currently being offered at an initial rate of 3.13%; the average a week earlier was 3.17%.

At this time last year, the starter rates on those mortgages were averaging 3.60%.