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Mortgage rates top 7%, hitting highest level since 2001

Mortgage rates on the rise
30-year fixed-rate mortgage average reaches highest level since 2001 03:05

The average interest rate on a typical 30-year mortgage surpassed 7% this week, the highest level since 2001. 

Mortgage rates rose from 6.94% last week to 7.16% this week, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage grew to 6.39%, from 6.09% last week.

The spike in mortgage rates is cooling the housing market by spooking buyers with higher borrowing costs and prompting new home builders to scale back their plans. And some homeowners are holding off on listing their properties because they don't want to give up mortgages they financed when rates were much lower. 

"As the ability to afford a new mortgage diminishes, buyers are forced to step back, and potential sellers are faced with the trade-off of letting go of their affordable monthly payments and low rates becoming less favorable, meaning overall inventory and sales will suffer," Zillow Senior Economist Nicole Bachaud said in a statement.

The higher rates translate into very real costs for homebuyers. Take a home that sells for the U.S. median price of $384,800 and that is purchased with a 20% down payment. At the current mortgage rate of 7.16%, a homebuyer would pay roughly $750 more per month than with a loan at 3.2%, the rate in early 2022.

The jump in borrowing costs is discouraging Americans from applying for mortgages and refinancing, noted Joel Kan, deputy chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association. Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes fell in September for the eighth month in a row, matching the pre-pandemic sales pace from a decade ago.

Some economists think mortgage costs are likely to keep climbing as the Federal Reserve continues lifting its benchmark interest rate to curb inflation. 

Consumer prices climb 8.2% as Federal Reserve weighs interest rate hike decision 04:12

The Fed doesn't set mortgage rates directly, but loan costs typically move in concert with the federal funds rate. Wall Street analysts expect the Fed to hike rates twice more by year-end.

Mortgage rates could reach 8.5% "which would be another big shock to the housing market," National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun told a group of real estate investors last week. Other analysts predict mortgage rates could hit double digits. 

For people in the market for a home, rising mortgage costs could at least add to the number of properties on the market as well as knock back prices. Housing prices rose roughly 40% during the pandemic, according to Freddie Mac. But the picture next year is likely to be different.

"As the labor market cools off, housing demand will remain weak in 2023, potentially resulting in declines in prices next year," the lender said in a recent report. "However, home price forecast uncertainty is wide due to interest rate volatility and the potential of a recession on the horizon."

MoneyWatch: U.S. home prices could fall by as much as 20% in 2023 04:12
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