U.S. rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 3.98%

WASHINGTON (AP) – April 6, 2012 – The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was mostly unchanged this week, as the cost of home buying and refinancing stayed near record lows.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan fell slightly to 3.98 percent from 3.99 percent last week. In February, the rate touched 3.87 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage also fell, to 3.21 percent from 3.23 percent. That’s above the record low of 3.13 percent hit last month.

Mortgage rates have been below 4 percent for all but one week since early December. That’s helped lift the outlook for housing after four sluggish years of home sales. Still, most economists expect only modest gains.

January and February made up the best winter for re-sales in five years, when the housing crisis began. And builders are more confident about the market. In February, they requested the most permits to build single-family homes and apartments in more than three years.

Applications for new mortgages rose in March, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, and there was a sharp rise in the average loan size, suggesting a bigger appetite for home loans. The average size of mortgage applications has increased by $20,000 since December, to about $235,000 last month.

An improved job market is driving the modest increase in home sales. Employers have added an average 245,000 net jobs per month from December through February. The unemployment rate has dropped from 9.1 percent in August to 8.3 percent in February, the lowest level in nearly three years.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press, Derek Kravitz, AP economics writer.

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