He added that the prospect of rates going even higher motivated them to move quickly on buying the new home. And if they had opted for a fixed-rate mortgage, he estimates, their monthly payment would have been higher by a couple hundred dollars. “When you run the numbers, it makes a big difference,” he said.
Adjustable-rate mortgages, which reset to market rates after a certain number of years, typically offer lower rates than fixed-rate mortgages at the beginning of their term. Some lenders say they have seen a surge of customer inquiries into the product as rates rise. They remain a relatively small part of the mortgage market, though: They made up about 12% of mortgage originations in the second quarter, according to industry research group Inside Mortgage Finance.
The rise in rates could have far-reaching effects for the mortgage industry. Some lenders—particularly nonbanks that don’t have other lines of business —could take on riskier customers to keep up their level of loan volume, or be forced to sell themselves. Many U.S. mortgage lenders, including some of the biggest players, didn’t exist a decade ago and only know a low-rate environment.
Long-term mortgage rates now have climbed nearly a full percentage point from 3.95% at the beginning of this year. House hunters who started searching months ago are acutely aware of the rise in rates.
“We have some people who prepared themselves early, and bless their heart for doing it—that’s what I’ve been preaching,” said Rick Bechtel, head of U.S. mortgage banking at TD Bank. “And they’re the ones who are most pained.”
A spate of recent positive economic news helped drive the 10-year Treasury note, to which mortgage rates are closely tied, to a seven-year high last week. The Federal Reserve, which has raised its key policy rate three times this year, is expected to do so again in December.
And higher rates will likely kill off any lingering possibility of a refinancing boom, which bailed out the mortgage industry in the years right after the 2008 financial crisis. If rates hit 5%, the pool of homeowners who would qualify for and benefit from a refinance will shrink to 1.55 million, according to mortgage-data and technology firm Black Knight Inc. That would be down about 64% since the start of the year, and the smallest pool since 2008.
Higher rates will be hardest on first-time buyers, who tend to make smaller down payments than older buyers who have built up equity in their previous homes, and middle-income buyers, who can least afford the extra cost. Mr. Khater said that about 45% of the loans that Freddie Mac is backing are to first-time buyers, up from about 30% normally, which also means that rising rates could have an even bigger impact on the market than usual.
“Affordability has already been an issue for consumers across the country,” said Sanjiv Das, CEO of Caliber Home Loans Inc., one of the biggest mortgage lenders in the country. “Now it becomes an even bigger issue.”
Appeared in the October 12, 2018, print edition as ‘Mortgage Rates Jump to Seven-Year High.’