Mortgage rates ticked lower last week, falling back toward the 5% mark following economic reports that indicated inflation might have finally peaked.
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 5.13% in the week ending August 18, down from 5.22% the week before, according to Freddie Mac. Despite the latest drop, rates are still significantly higher than this time last year, when the 30-year was 2.86%.
After starting the year at 3.22%, mortgage rates rose sharply during the first half of the year, hitting a high of 5.81% in mid-June. But since then, concerns about the economy and the Federal Reserve's mission to combat inflation have made them more volatile.
"Inflation appears to be beyond its peak, which has stopped the rapid increase in mortgage rates that the housing market was experiencing earlier this year," said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist.
Higher mortgage rates have taken a toll on the housing market this summer. In addition to a sharp drop in the sales of both new and existing homes, fewer people are applying for mortgages.
"The market continues to absorb the cumulative impact of the large price and rate increases that led to a plunge in affordability," he said. "As a result, over the rest of the year purchase demand likely will continue to drag, supply will modestly increase, and home price growth will decelerate."
Mortgage application activity was lower last week from the week before and overall applications have declined to their lowest levels since 2000, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
"Home purchase applications continued to be held down by rapidly drying up demand, as high mortgage rates, challenging affordability, and a gloomier outlook of the economy kept buyers on the sidelines," said Joel Kan, MBA's associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.
However, he said, if home price growth slows more significantly and mortgage rates move lower, purchase activity may bounce back later in the year.
Still, affordability remains a challenge for many prospective home buyers, especially when compared with the cost of financing a home just last year.
A year ago, a buyer who put 20% down on a $390,000 home and financed the rest with a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at an average interest rate of 2.86% had a monthly mortgage payment of $1,292, according to calculations from Freddie Mac.
Today, a homeowner buying the same priced house with an average rate of 5.13% would pay $1,700 a month in principal and interest. That's nearly $408 more each month.