Kiss 4% mortgage rates goodbye By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- The era of near 4% mortgage rates has ended after a quick rate rise since early November. But some industry experts think that may be a good thing for the flagging housing market.

The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate has risen to 4.86% from 4.17%, according to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage market survey. In the weekly survey, the rate has risen to 5.02% -- crossing the 5% mark for the second time in three weeks -- after being as low as 4.42% as recently as early November.

Rates haven't been this high since May and forecasters now predict them to remain between 5% and 6% for all of 2011.

"You can kiss those record lows goodbye," said Greg McBride, chief economist for

Keith Gumbinger of HSH Associates, a provider of mortgage information said that the market reached a new plateau.

"I don't think we're going back to a 50-year low anytime soon without an economic collapse," he said. "Rates will probably never revisit those levels."

The increase will push mortgage payments higher for homebuyers. When rates rise from 4.25% to 5% it takes away about 9% of buying power, according to McBride.

"That's nothing to sneeze at," he said. "But it's still small relative to the steep drop in home prices over the past few years."

Good for the market?

Higher interest rates may even prove stimulating to the still quiet housing market in which sales volume and prices are scraping near their bottoms.

"The initial phase of an interest rate increase generally does not hurt markets," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. "In fact, it can help."

The rapid rise introduces an element of urgency for potential homebuyers. They may now rush to buy before rates spurt even more.

The strength of the economic recovery will have far more impact on the housing market that this relatively modest increase in mortgage rates, according to Yun. If hiring gains momentum, housing markets should revive.

"If we add 2 million jobs as expected in 2011, and mortgage rates rise only moderately, we should see existing-home sales rise to a higher, sustainable volume," said Yun.

Gumbinger said that demand for homes may be tempered somewhat by the increased mortgage costs and so affect home prices a bit but the improving job picture and better consumer confidence matter much more.

"If the other factors are aligned," he said, "interest rates are not a big thing."

The real mortgage challenge, according to Yun, is to increase the number of loan applicants winning approvals. Too many potential homebuyers are still finding it difficult to qualify for loans.

"The current mortgage market is a unique situation" he said. "It's less about rates than it is about underwriting standards, which are, in my opinion, still too stringent."

"If lenders return to more normal, safe underwriting standards for creditworthy buyers, there would be a bigger boost to the housing market and spillover benefits for the broader economy." To top of page

Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.30%4.34%
15 yr fixed3.72%3.76%
5/1 ARM4.08%4.26%
30 yr refi4.28%4.31%
15 yr refi3.69%3.73%
Rate data provided
View rates in your area
Find personalized rates:
  • Find Homes for sale
    Real estate and homes for sale on Trulia

  • Property Type
  • Find a home in: New York | Atlanta | Chicago | Los Angeles
  • Washington D.C | Houston | Philadelphia | More options
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 24,946.51 72.85 0.29%
Nasdaq 7,481.99 0.25 0.00%
S&P 500 2,752.01 4.68 0.17%
Treasuries 2.85 0.02 0.78%
Data as of 2:15am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Chesapeake Energy Co... 3.06 0.04 1.32%
General Electric Co 14.31 -0.05 -0.35%
Bank of America Corp... 32.17 0.07 0.22%
Ford Motor Co 11.15 0.08 0.72%
Micron Technology In... 60.58 1.74 2.96%
Data as of Mar 16


The European Union has published a long list of American products that it could target if President Donald Trump moves forward with new tariffs on steel and aluminum. More

"It's like competing in an Olympic race wearing lead shoes," Elon Musk, referring to trade rules with China, tweeted to President Donald Trump. More

Good news for procrastinators: You get two extra days to file your federal income taxes. April 15 falls on a weekend and April 16 is a public holiday in the District of Columbia. More