Mortgage Rates Are Falling, So Where Are the Home Buyers?

By NICK TIMIRAOS

Mortgage rates have fallen close to their lowest levels in nearly a year, but housing demand hasn’t budged much yet.

Freddie MacFMCC -0.45% reported Thursday that the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.14% this week, up from 4.12% last week but down from 4.4% just two months ago. This puts rates at roughly the same level seen in late October 2013 and again last June, when rates were zipping up as investors braced for an end to the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying programs.

But even with low rates, mortgage applications have been soft, according to a separate report from the Mortgage Bankers Association, a sign of still muted demand for home loans.

What’s going on?

First, a longer view helps. True, mortgage rates are low—as low as they’ve been in almost 12 months. But in the same way that shoppers may not be lured by “low prices” at a department store that is always advertising a sale, mortgage rates at 4.1% may not be seen as a steal by buyers who lived with rates that were even lower for all of 2012 and the first half of 2013—especially considering that prices have moved higher.

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