Demand for mortgages has crashed to a multi-decade low last week as prospective homebuyers contend with surging inflation and rising interest rates, data released on Wednesday showed.
The volume of mortgage loan applications sank 6.3% for the week ending on July 15 compared to one week earlier, according to the latest weekly survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The index measuring activity dropped to its lowest level since 2000.
Refinance applications also declined by 4% compared to the previous week and have fallen by 80% compared to the same week one year ago, the survey found.
“Purchase activity declined for both conventional and government loans, as the weakening economic outlook, high inflation, and persistent affordability challenges are impacting buyer demand,” said Joel Kan, associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting at the Mortgage Bankers Association.
“The decline in recent purchase applications aligns with slower homebuilding activity due to reduced buyer traffic and ongoing building material shortages and higher costs,” Kan added.
The MBA’s purchase index, which measures the volume of applications for mortgages to buy homes, fell 7% week-over-week and 19% year-over-year.
The downtick in mortgage demand coincided with a surge in interest rates, which have nearly doubled since January as the Federal Reserve hikes its benchmark rate to combat inflation. While the Fed rate does not directly impact mortgages, all forms of borrowing are becoming more expensive on the expectation of tightened economic policy.
The average contract interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances jumped to 5.82% last week, up from 5.74% the previous week. The same mortgage had a 3.11% rate during the same week one year earlier.
The latest mortgage demand emerged days after the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index showed home builder confidence plummeted 12 points to 55 in July – hitting its lowest level since May 2020.
As Kan referenced, rising mortgage rates added to the financial pain for home buyers already facing sky-high prices – pricing some shoppers out of the market entirely.
One economist warned that the housing market could be on the verge of a “meltdown” due to the confluence of negative trends.
The Fed is expected to increase interest rates by another three-quarters of a percentage point at a meeting next week following dismal June inflation data that showed prices jumping 9.1%.
Many investors expect the central bank to implement an even sharper hike of a full percentage point, though some policymakers have expressed skepticism that it will actually happen.