“Rates could fall lower than their current, record-low levels,” said Matthew Speakman, an economist at Zillow. “The path forward for mortgage rates depends greatly on epidemiological developments and policy-related matters, particularly the Federal Reserve’s asset buying program, which is currently placing downward pressure on rates.”
The rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage declined to 2.67% last week, down from 2.71% the week before, which was the previous record, according to Freddie Mac, the government agency that backs millions of mortgages. A year ago, the rate was more than a full percentage point higher at 3.73%.
Homeowners are the most likely to benefit from the record low rates if they refinance, experts said, while buyers still have to contend with a competitive housing market, eroding the advantages of low rates.
There are 18.8 million eligible refinance candidates
At the new rate, around 18.8 million homeowners would benefit from refinancing their mortgage, according to BlackKnight, a mortgage and data analytics firm, which determined how many candidates could qualify for the rate.
“This is lower than the 19.4 million we’d previously reported due to subsequent refi activity decreasing the overall pool of eligible borrowers,” said Mitch Cohen, director at BlackKnight. “The next threshold that would increase this population [would be] if rates fell to 2.625% or below.”
The fresh low in rates also comes after a new refinance fee kicked in earlier this month for mortgages backed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Still, that has yet to deter homeowners from locking in a lower rate.
“While the new refinance price adjustment has made it more expensive for people to refinance, it’s clear that many still view it as a great time to do so and are moving forward in the process,” Speakman said.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday that its index measuring refinance activity was up 105% compared with the same time last year. The volume has been elevated for much of the year since the pandemic began and the Federal Reserve moved to lower interest rates across the board.
“The refinance market is the lone bright spot in the consumer housing industry,” said David Haas, co-founder of PowerPay, a home renovation financing provider, “and is expected to reach $2 trillion in refinances in 2020 — second only to 2003.”
Housing stock is also at a ‘near-time low’
It’s first-time homebuyers who may not be able to capitalize on the historically low rates. That’s because of two other headwinds they’re facing: a lack of housing supply and rising home prices.
“Lower rates, in general, make borrowing for any asset, including homes, more affordable because monthly payments on lower interest rates cost less,” Haas said. “The problem for most Americans is that housing stock is near all-time lows and home prices have gone up, which means consumers have to borrow more to afford the new home price — thus wiping out the benefit of lower rates.“