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Mortgage rates remain near record lows — so why are homebuyer applications falling?

Mortgage rates edged slightly higher but remained close to all-time lows, despite disappointing economic reports over the past week.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.88% for the week ending Sept. 2, up one basis point from the previous week, Freddie Mac
FMCC,
-0.11%

reported Thursday. Mortgage rates are now above their level from last year — a year ago, the 30-year loan averaged 2.86%.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage increased one basis point over the past week to an average of 2.19%. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage fell by that same amount to an average of 2.42%.

For home buyers, the holding pattern mortgage rates have remained in for the past few weeks is welcome, given the likelihood of higher rates in the future.

“With inflation a simmering concern, when mortgage rates do begin to move, they will most likely move higher,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. “For homebuyers and refinancers alike, mortgage rates remain favorable, but may not remain so for long.”

While mortgage rates have remained stable in recent weeks, it has not led to an increased flow of applications from potential home buyers. The most recent mortgage application data from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed that the volume of applications for loans used to buy homes is down significantly in recent weeks.

Buyers remained constrained by the lack of homes for sale on the existing-homes side of the market, as evidenced by recent reports on the state of the housing market.

“Housing, while likely to remain reasonably solid, is not going to be as red-hot going forward as it had been, nor is it going to continue to slide for very long like it has recently,” Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc., wrote in a research report Wednesday.

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