- Mike Ochs
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Mortgage Applications Spike 16 Percent as Investors Take Over the Residential Market
Although analysts are sounding a cautionary note, the number of Americans applying for mortgages rose by 16.1 percent in the first week of March – the largest monthly increase since June of 2009. The activity could be due to investors with money to spend, and not the first-time homebuyers who will play a vital role in the housing market’s recovery. The refinance index increased 17.2 percent and the purchase index increased 12.5 percent, to the highest level this year. The refinance share of activity increased to 65.5 percent of all applications from 64.9 percent the last week of February. That’s the good news. That bad news is that mortgage applications are likely to decline over the next several months because homeowners are unable to sell their current homes and trade up. At present, cash buyers and investors — lured by low prices and soaring rents — represent the majority of sales, said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics. Also, rates are low. According to Zillow.com, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is now 4.73 percent.
During January, first-time homebuyers fell to 29 percent of the market, the lowest percentage in almost two years. Foreclosures made up 37 percent of sales and all-cash transactions were 32 percent of sales — twice the rate when compared two years ago when the National Association of Realtors began tracking these deals. New-home sales fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 284,000 in January. That is significantly less than the 700,000-to-800,000 pace considered healthy by a number of economists.
“Taking into account typical seasonal patterns, purchase applications rose to their highest level of the year last week. On an unadjusted basis, purchase application activity is the highest since last May,” said Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics. “An improving job market is beginning to pave the way for an improving housing market. Additionally, mortgage interest rates remained below five percent for a second week, maintaining affordability for buyers and leading to an increase in refinance applications.” The four week average for the seasonally adjusted Market Index rose percent. The four week average rose 1.2 percent for the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index, while this average is up 3.6 percent for the Refinance Index. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 65.5 percent of total applications from 64.9 percent the previous week. Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) rose to 6.0 percent from 5.5 percent of total applications from the previous week.
“The housing market in the U.S. still has a lot of challenges ahead of it,” said Michael Gregory, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “Ultimately it’s all about how many homes still are going to hit the market. People don’t want to buy homes because they feel prices could fall further.”