Fixed mortgage rates drop again to record lows

WASHINGTON (AP) ? The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell back down to 3.94 percent, the record low set earlier in the fall.

Low rates offer a great opportunity for those who can afford to buy or refinance. Still, few people are able to take advantage of them.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate on the 30-year home loan fell from 3.99 percent the previous week. The average rate of 3.94 percent is the lowest rate ever, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.21 percent from 3.27 percent. That’s also a new record.

Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks this year. Yet this year could be the worst for home sales in 14 years.

Low mortgage rates haven’t spurred more home sales. Sales of previously occupied homes are just slightly ahead of last year’s dismal sales figures ? the worst in 13 years. New-home sales appear headed to their worst year on records dating back half a century.

Mortgage applications have risen modestly in recent weeks but are up from extremely low levels, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

High unemployment and scant wage gains have made it harder for many people to qualify for loans. Many Americans don’t want to sink money into a home that could lose value over the next three to four years.

The average rate on the 30-year fixed loan has been below 5 percent for all but two weeks in the past year, and many homeowners who can afford to refinance already have.

Some lenders say they are seeing an increase in applications through the Obama administration’s refinancing program, which was broadened in October to allow up to 1 million more homeowners lower their monthly mortgage payments. But the Mortgage Bankers Association said such government-assisted loans account for only a small portion of refinancing applications.

The average rates don’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for the 30-year loan rose to 0.8 from 0.7 and the fee on the 15-year fixed mortgage was unchanged at 0.8.

The average rate on the five-year adjustable loan fell to 2.86 percent from 2.93 percent. The average rate on the one-year adjustable loan increased slightly to 2.81 percent from 2.80 percent.

The average fee on the five-year loan rose from 0.5 to 0.6 and the fee on the one-year adjustable loan was unchanged at 0.6.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country Monday through Wednesday of each week.