Roughly 72% of potential homebuyers say homeownership would be financially feasible if mortgage rates fell below 5%, according to a recent survey from Realtor.com. That means mortgage rates would need to drop by at least 2% to unlock today’s unaffordable housing market.
But there’s a problem. Major forecasts don’t call for mortgage rates to slip under 6% until 2025.
Between last November and early January, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage, the most popular home loan type, fell from a high of 8.01% to the mid-6% range, according to Bankrate, CNET’s sister site. However, throughout February, rates have gone up and kept steady at around 7.25%.
Though mortgage rates aren’t expected to fall dramatically this year, any dip is good news for homebuyers. If home loan rates manage to reach the low-6% range by the end of the year, it would increase housing affordability for a large number of families who have been stuck on the sidelines.
Will 6% be the magic mortgage rate to kick-start the housing market? Or will we need to wait for 5% rates a year from now? Here’s what experts are saying.
Mortgage rates: Rise like a rocket, fall like a feather?
The recent surge in mortgage rates was fueled by hotter-than-expected inflation and labor data, which sent the 10-year Treasury yield (a key benchmark for the 30-year fixed mortgage rate) higher. But in some ways, rates were just recalibrating to an appropriate level.
“Investors got a little ahead of themselves in terms of expectations for lower rates this year,” said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage site HSH.com. Given the state of the economy — like sticky inflation and the Federal Reserve’s reactive monetary policy — financial markets may have been overly optimistic in projecting when interest rate cuts would start.
After nearly two years of aggressive interest rate hikes to tame inflationary pressures, the Fed signaled in December it would likely cut rates three times in 2024. Though the Fed doesn’t directly set mortgage rates, a lower federal funds rate, combined with cooler inflation, would help mortgage rates go down.
Overall forecasts still project mortgage rates to decline, but exactly when and by how much is murkier. Before adjusting the federal funds rate, the central bank wants to see inflation steady at its 2% year-over-year target.
Even if economic data points to a slowdown, mortgage rate movement will likely be slow and gradual, so 5% rates aren’t in the cards this year.
Read more: Mortgage Predictions: How Labor Data Could Impact Mortgage Rates in 2024
Will mortgage rates go below 6% this year?
Mortgage rates tend to be volatile and preemptive. Rate movement depends not on what’s happening now, but on what investors and lenders believe will happen in the future, according to Orphe Divounguy, senior economist at Zillow Home Loans.
“Today’s mortgage rates, to some extent, already reflect expectations of slowing economic growth and future Fed rate cuts,” Divounguy said.
While next month’s economic data could change the equation, expectations for mortgage rates haven’t changed much. Rates in the low-6% range are still possible in 2024, just not in time for the spring homebuying season.
Is 6% an affordable mortgage rate?
Today’s mortgage rates feel high, even if they’re not in a broad historical sense.
Most prospective first-time homebuyers have witnessed low rates over the past decade, especially when they hit rock bottom in the 2% to 3% range during the pandemic. Current buyers likely weren’t on the market for a home in the 1980s, when rates peaked above 18%.
What’s considered an affordable mortgage rate depends on your financial situation. Broadly speaking, a good mortgage rate is generally at or below the national average. The median 30-year mortgage rate since 1971 is 7.4%, according to Freddie Mac.
For many homeowners, the mortgage rate they start with is only temporary: They refinance to a lower rate when mortgage rates drop.
Mortgage rates feel so high nowadays because of the housing market’s overall affordability crisis. Home prices keep rising, inflation is cutting into wages, and debt from credit cards and student loans continue to chip away at savings. All those factors combined have put homeownership out of reach for middle-income and low-income Americans.
Comparing 6% vs. 7% vs. 8% mortgage rate
If you’ve been waiting for rates to plummet before buying a home, doing some basic calculations might change your perspective. Yes, a 6% mortgage is higher than just four years ago. But it’s still a better deal than an 8% or even 7% mortgage rate.
How to get a lower mortgage rate
While it’s important to keep track of current mortgage rate trends, the best thing to do is focus on doing things like improving your credit score, paying off debt and saving for a bigger down payment.
Many mortgage lenders advertise lower-than-average interest rates. But to qualify for those low rates, you’ll need to have excellent credit, a low debt-to-income ratio and (typically) a down payment of at least 20%.
Experts also recommend comparing loan offers from at least two different mortgage lenders to help you secure the best deal.
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