WASHINGTON -- Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages declined this week, hovering near historically low levels.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for a 30-year loan eased to 4.14 percent from 4.17 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage fell to 3.22 percent from 3.30 percent.
Rising prices and higher interest rates beginning in mid-2013 have made homes less affordable for would-be buyers. At the same time, a limited supply of homes is available to buy. Sales of new homes are running about half the rate of a healthy housing market.
Home prices rose in April from a year ago at the slowest pace in 13 months, reflecting the recent drop-off in sales, according to the latest Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday.
Mortgage rates are about a quarter of a percentage point higher than they were at the same time last year. The increase in rates over the past year or so was driven in part by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its bond purchases, which have helped keep long-term interest rates low. Indeed, the Fed has announced five declines in its monthly bond purchases since December because the economy appears to be steadily healing. But the Fed has no plans to raise its benchmark short-term rate from record lows.
After the central bank ended a two-day policy meeting last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen sent the message that the economy still isn't healthy enough to grow at a consistently strong pace without the Fed's help. Yellen said that despite a steadily improving job market and signs of creeping inflation, the Fed sees no need to raise short-term interest rates from record lows anytime soon.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday each week. The average doesn't include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.
The average fee for a 30-year mortgage fell to 0.5 point from 0.6 point a week earlier. The fee for a 15-year loan was unchanged at 0.5 point.
The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate loan slipped to 2.40 percent from 2.41 percent. The average fee remained at 0.4 point.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable mortgage fell to 2.98 percent from 3.00 percent. The fee declined to 0.3 point from 0.4 point.