Yesterday when looking at the latest MBA Mortgage Application data, we found that, as mortgage rates jumped to the highest level since 2011, mortgage refi applications, not unexpectedly tumbled to the lowest level since the financial crisis, choking off a key revenue item for banks, and resulting in even more pain for the likes of Wells Fargo.
Today, according to the latest Freddie Mac mortgage rates report, after plateauing in recent weeks, mortgage rates reversed course and reached a new high last seen eight years ago as the 30-year fixed mortgage rate edged up to 4.61% matching the highest level since May 19, 2011.
But while the highest mortgage rates in 8 years are predictably crushing mortgage refinance activity, they appears to be having the opposite effect on home purchases, where there is a sheer scramble to buy, and sell, houses. As Bloomberg notes, citing brokerage Redfin, the average home across the US that sold last month went into contract after a median of 36 only days on the market - a record speed in data going back to 2010.
To Sam Khater, chief economist of Freddie Mac, this was a sign of an economy firing on all cylinders: "This is what happens when the economy is strong,” Khater told Bloomberg in a phone interview. “All the higher-rate environment does is it either causes them to try and rush or look at different properties that are more affordable."
Of course, one can simply counter that what rising rates do is make housing - for those who need a mortgage - increasingly more unaffordable, as a result of the higher monthly mortgage payments. Case in point: with this week’s jump, the monthly payment on a $300,000, 30-year loan has climbed to $1,540, up over $100 from $1,424 in the beginning of the year, when the average rate was 3.95%. In other words, all else equal, home prices will fall.
As such, surging rates merely pull home demand from the future, as potential homebuyers hope to lock in "lower" rates today instead of risking tomorrow's rates. It also means that after today's surge in activity, a vacuum in transactions will follow, especially if rates stabilize or happen to drop. Think "cash for clunkers", only in this case it's houses.
Meanwhile, the short supply of home listings for sale and increased competition is only making their purchases harder to afford: according to Redfin, this spike in demand and subdued supply means that home prices soared 7.6% in April from a year earlier to a median of $302,200, and sellers got a record 98.8% of what they asked on average.
Call it the sellers market.
Furthermore, bidding wars are increasingly breaking out: Minneapolis realtor Mary Sommerfeld said a family she works with offered $33,000 more than the $430,000 list price for a home in St. Paul. The listing agent gave her the bad news: There were nine offers and the family’s was second from the bottom.
For Sommerfeld’s clients, the lack of inventory is a bigger problem than rising mortgage rates. If anything, they want to close quickly before they get priced out of the market -- and have to pay more interest.
“I don’t think it’s hurting the buyer demand at all,” she said. “My buyers say they better get busy and buy before the interest rates go up any further.”
Then again, in the grand scheme of things, 4.61% is still low. Kristin Wilson, a loan officer with Envoy Mortgage in Edina, Minnesota, tells customers to keep things in perspective. When she bought a house in the early 1980s, the interest on her adjustable-rate mortgage was 12 percent, she said.
“One woman actually used the phrase: ‘Rates shot up,’” Wilson said. “We’ve been spoiled after a number of years with rates hovering around 4 percent or lower.”
Of course, if the average mortgage rate in the America is ever 12% again, look for a real life recreation of Mad Max in a not so friendly neighborhood near you.