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What the recent Fed interest rate hike means for first-time homebuyers

June 17, 2022, 6:39 PM UTC
Saleswoman greeting female customers while standing outside house
In a tough home buying market, first-time buyers are now also facing increased interest rates.
The Good Brigade—Getty Images

Prospective first-time homebuyers have had a rough go of it lately, entering the housing market amid soaring prices, dwindling housing stock, and intense competition. No wonder so many millennials are crying during the process.

The path to homeownership got that much more arduous this week: The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate has increased to 6.03%, according to the Mortgage News Daily. The rise represents a 2.9% increase compared with the same time last year, Fortune reported on Wednesday.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates by 0.75%—the biggest rate hike in 28 years—in an effort to cool the economy and combat mounting inflation. While mortgage rates aren’t tied to the Fed’s benchmark rate, they are impacted by the Treasury 10-year bond, which can be influenced by a range of factors including inflation. (Did we mention that inflation hit a 40-year high in May and the S&P 500 slid into bear market territory this week?)

All this makes for very rocky financial times, which might be spooking young people hoping to put down roots. Over the course of the pandemic, prospective homebuyers could at least rely on record low interest rates while contending with other housing market woes. But as everyday life gets much more expensive, homeownership seems like an even more unattainable goal.

All hope is not lost

“Is this the right time to buy or should I wait?” asked one Redditor in a first-time homebuyers subreddit on Wednesday. “With the interest rates…going up and the current house prices, is it better to look for the right opportunity now or wait?”

First-time buyers are in for both affordability and loan qualification heartaches, says Patricia Maguire-Feltch, national field executive for Chase Home Lending.

“A higher interest rate means that a homebuyer planning to finance is likely to pay more over the length of the loan,” Maguire-Feltch says. As a result, it’s likely they’ll qualify for a smaller mortgage than they would when the rates were lower. Not to mention they “continue to compete with cash buyers in a housing market with high demand and historically low inventory.”

With a 3.11% APR on a 30-year fixed mortgage, a homebuyer purchasing a $500,000 home with a 10% down payment could expect to roughly pay $2,000 per month, not including taxes and fees. With the fixed rate hitting 6.03%, that monthly payment would jump to more than $2,700. The higher interest rate means you’re paying an additional $282,000 over the life of the mortgage.

Rising mortgage rates will undeniably impact anyone looking to buy a home or refinance a mortgage, but Maguire-Feltch points out that even as they rise, interest rates are still at historic lows.

With that in mind, she recommends buyers move fast and work as closely as possible with lenders to understand what they can afford as well as what additional support and offers are available to help them qualify.

“The ability to move quickly in this environment is critical. Homebuyers should do their research on lender-backed resources available to them,” she says. “Mortgage rates fluctuate every day—if you find a house you love and are comfortable with the payment based on today’s rates, we suggest locking that rate so you have certainty of what your payments will look like on your home loan.”

Certain homebuyers might also qualify for programs and grants that can help alleviate some of the financial burden. A good mortgage broker can help you find the best programs for your needs.

“Home-lending advisors can help buyers understand what they can afford and the assistance programs available to them,” Maguire-Feltch says.

Chase, for example, offers homebuyer grants up to $5,500. Bank of America offers grants of up to $7,500 to go toward closing costs or to permanently buy down interest rates, as well as grants up to $10,000 for down payments in select markets. Be sure to read the fine print for qualifications and exceptions.

There are also a bevy of state and local finance agencies that offer assistance programs for first-time homebuyers. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides a breakdown of state, regional, and local assistance programs for each state.

At the end of the day, however, first-time homebuyers might get the true reprieve they’re hoping for: a slowdown in the housing market. In May, mortgage applications for new home purchases decreased by 5% year-over-year, according to a release from the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“Applications to purchase new homes in May fell by 4% from April, as mortgage rates hit 5.5% and further dampened demand,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, in the release. “Activity was already constrained due to tight for-sale inventory, high sales prices, and extended building completion timelines. After increasing for 15 consecutive months, the average loan size fell slightly from April’s survey high to $430,855, which is a potential indication that cooling demand may be starting to moderate price growth.”

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