Last years 3.5 percent mortgage rates are long gone and experts say consumers who hold off buying or refinancing homes in hopes that sub-4 percent interest levels will return could miss out on todays sub-5 percent rates, too.
We think 3.5 percent rates are in the rearview mirror now, Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association, said in January. Its highly unlikely that were going to get back to those levels again.
Benchmark U.S. mortgage rates hit a record low of around 3.5 percent in late 2012 and early 2013 as the Federal Reserves Quantitative Easing III program helped push long-term interest rates into the cellar. Under QE3, the central bank had been buying $85 billion of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities each month in a bid to drive rates on mortgages and other long-term debt down.
But mortgage rates shot up to around 4.4 percent last summer after the Fed hinted in May at plans to begin winding QE3 down.
Now, market watchers expect QE3s phaseout and the strengthening U.S. economys increased inflation risks to push mortgage rates to 5 percent or higher by years end.
Fratantoni predicts rates will hit 5 percent by summer and 5.3 percent by Dec. 31.
The U.S. economy is growing again, the Fed is beginning to back off of its very aggressive policy to lower rates, and we have (increasing federal budget deficit) pressures, he said. Given all of that, rates are much more likely to go up than down from here.
Market tracker Zillow likewise foresees 5 percent mortgage rates later this year, but economic research director Svenja Gudell says interest levels should rise slowly enough to give consumers plenty of time to buy or refinance places first.
I dont think theres the need to rush out and buy a house this very second, she says. But Id recommend locking in a mortgage below 5 percent, because I expect rates to continue rising.
On the plus side, Gudell believes lenders will have to ease todays relatively tight lending standards to keep their home-loan operations humming. After all, she says, higher interest rates typically reduce consumer demand for mortgages.
I think well see banks be more generous about extending credit to people who perhaps would have had a trouble getting mortgages in 2013, the expert says.
For instance, Gudell predicts lenders will lower the FICO score required for the best home-loan rates to around 710 from todays approximately 740.
But Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, says consumers shouldnt expect sub-4 percent mortgage rates to return anytime soon unless a major shock throws the economy back into recession.
I think that if people are hoping for some temporary dip in rates, theyll be disappointed, says Yun, who forecasts 5.3 percent rates by late 2014. I realize that many people have seen colleagues and friends lock in mortgages at record-low rates and are jealous. But for now, those rates are history.