LOS ANGELES — The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate climbed to a six-week high this week, pushing up borrowing costs for homebuyers already facing the challenges of rising housing prices and a shortage of homes for sale.
The average rate on a 30-year mortgage rose to 6.69% from 6.6% last week, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday. A year ago, the rate averaged 6.13%.
As mortgage rates rise, they can add hundreds of dollars a month in costs for borrowers, limiting how much they can afford.
Rates have increased three out of four weeks this month. The latest uptick brings the average rate to its highest level since December 14, when it was 6.95%.
Borrowing costs on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, popular with homeowners refinancing their home loans, also rose this week, lifting the average rate to 5.96% from 5.76% last week. A year ago, it averaged 5.17%, Freddie Mac said.
Home loan borrowing costs have been mostly easing since late last year, after the average rate on a 30-year mortgage climbed to 7.79%, the highest level since late 2000.
As mortgage rates have come down, so have monthly payments on new home loans.
The national median monthly payment listed on mortgage applications in December fell 3.8% from the previous month to $2,055, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Thursday. Still, it was up 7.1% from December 2022.
The overall pullback in mortgage rates since their recent peak loosely tracks the moves in the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use as a guide to pricing loans. The yield has largely come down on hopes that inflation has cooled enough from its peak two summers ago for the Federal Reserve to begin cutting interest rates this year.
Many economists are projecting that mortgage rates will continue heading lower this year, though forecasts generally have the average rate on a 30-year home loan hovering around 6% by the end of the year.
If rates keep easing that should help boost purchasing power for prospective homebuyers this spring, traditionally the busiest period for home sales.
“Despite persistent inventory challenges, we anticipate a busier spring homebuying season than 2023, with home prices continuing to increase at a steady pace,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.
Elevated mortgage rates and a dearth of available homes have kept the U.S. housing market mired in a slump the past two years. Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes sank to a nearly 30-year low last year, tumbling 18.7% from 2022.
For now, the average rate on a 30-year mortgage remains sharply higher than just two years ago, when it was 3.45%.
That gap between rates now and then has helped limit the number of previously occupied homes on the market by discouraging homeowners who locked lower rates from selling. Nearly 90% of U.S. homeowners with mortgages have an interest rate below 6%, while just under 60% have a rate below 4%, according to Redfin.
“Prospective homebuyers are eagerly watching mortgage rates as they decide when, or if, to get into the market,” said Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist at Bright MLS. “But it’s not all about rates. In this still-competitive housing market, buyers will still find tight inventory.”