Mortgage rates top 5%, hitting a 7-year high

Mortgage rates climbing thanks to healthy economy

By PAUL R. LA MONICA, CNN BUSINESS
iStock/kroach

NEW YORK (CNN Business) - If you're looking to buy a home, be prepared to pay a heftier mortgage than friends who purchased houses in the past few years.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said this week that the average 30-year fixed home loan rate hit 5.05 percent -- the highest since February 2011. And federal mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage are now at 4.9 percent, also a more than seven-year high.

Mortgage rates are climbing thanks to a healthy economy. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level in nearly half a century and wages are rising. Consumers are spending and businesses are investing.

That's led the Federal Reserve to nudge up short-term interest rates, and longer-term bond yields that help influence mortgage rates have climbed in the process.

But now that mortgages have breached the 5 percent level, will that scare away prospective buyers?

To be sure, rates are still relatively low. The average 30-year mortgage rate was hovering around 6.5% in 2007 -- before the epic housing market collapse that helped lead to the Great Recession.

Still. housing prices are starting to cool off in many markets around the country. Prices aren't rising as quickly in New York, Chicago and Washington.

And according to a recent report from Zillow, prospective sellers have even been forced to cut prices in some markets that were once red hot, such as San Diego, Portland and Dallas.

Buyers seem wary of paying too much, especially now that a mortgage will cost them more.

That may be taking their toll on homebuilders. D.R. Horton (DHI) said earlier this week that it expected home sales for this year to be below Wall Street's forecasts. Lennar (LEN) recently cut its orders outlook too.

Freddie Mac added last month that "the housing market has essentially stalled."

And it may not improve anytime soon. Freddie Mac said that it now expects overall home sales (both new and existing) to fall nearly 1 percent this year, mainly due to a lack of affordable houses on the market and higher mortgage rates.

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