Homebuyers hit with another blow as mortgage rates soar 24% in March

March 31, 2022, 9:55 PM UTC

Mortgage rates rose at a record pace in March after the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate for the first time since 2018 in hopes of cooling rising inflation.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage—the most common type of mortgage in the U.S.—has surged an incredible 24% in the past four weeks alone, data from Freddie Mac shows. That’s the fastest four-week increase for mortgage rates in history, Redfin’s deputy chief economist Taylor Marr told Fortune.

Homebuyers are now paying an average of 4.67% for their 30-year-fixed rate mortgages—up from just 3.22% in January. The rapid increase in U.S. mortgage rates over the past few months has pushed the typical monthly payment for an American homebuyer up by more than $500, Marr said.

And with Wall Street predicting the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as many as seven times this year—thereby increasing the cost of borrowing on everything from cars to student loans—homebuyers will likely be in for more mortgage rate increases moving forward.

The rising cost of home loans may help cool the U.S.’s red-hot housing market as higher rates will lead some borrowers to lose their mortgage eligibility due to banks’ strict debt-to-income ratio requirements.

The “abrupt” increase in interest rates particularly influences first-time homebuyers.

“We are hearing from our agents on the ground that some of the first-time homebuyers might be more sensitive to the rising rates and are some of the first ones to back out. I do think we’re probably already observing some buyers being priced out of the market at this point,” Marr said.

A whopping 64% of non-homeowners also said affordability is already a factor holding them back from buying a home, according to a Bankrate.com survey released on Wednesday.

Still, in the fourth quarter of 2021, Redfin found that a record 80% of homes are being purchased by investors who are typically cash buyers and therefore less sensitive to interest rate increases. That means, even with the recent jump in mortgage rates, home prices will likely continue to rise in the near term.

Rising prices, low inventory

Average home prices have been on a tear over the past few years, rising from around $215,000 at the start of the pandemic to more than $280,000 this month.

In January alone, home prices jumped 19.2% year-over-year, a figure that dwarfs every annual price increase ahead of the 2008 U.S. housing bubble.

One of the main reasons for the rapid increase in home prices is historically low inventory. The U.S. has under-built housing over the past two decades to the tune of 5.5 million to 6.8 million homes, according to a 2021 National Realtors Association report.

Marr said single-family home inventory is near the lowest level it’s been in decades, and “as of March 27, active listings are down 22% year-over-year.”

While U.S. homebuilders have ramped up building recently to help keep pace with demand, Marr believes new construction won’t be able to boost inventory enough to lower prices in the near term.

“One in three single-family homes right now are new construction, but they’re still building about 31% below their long-run average per household,” Marr said. “So housing starts aren’t quite making that large of a dent in terms of the inventory shortage just yet.”

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