WASHINGTON — Average rates on fixed mortgages crept closer to historic lows, which could help the housing recovery strengthen.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan edged down to 3.54 percent from 3.57 percent last week. That was near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.
The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage declined to 2.74 percent from 2.76 percent last week. The record low of 2.63 percent also was reached in November.
Low mortgage rates have contributed to a housing rebound more than six years after the bubble burst. Sales and construction are up, prices are rising, and more Americans are refinancing. That has helped the broader economy.
Sales of previously owned homes in February reached the highest level in more than three years. Some of the demand has come from investors. Sales to first-time home buyers remain below healthy levels.
Some people are unable to take advantage of the low mortgage rates, either because they can’t qualify under stricter lending rules or they lack the money for the larger down payments required now.
There also is concern a limited number of homes for sale could slow sales at the start of the spring buying season.
The low supply and increased sales have helped drive prices higher. Home prices rose 10.2 percent in February, compared with a year earlier, according to real estate data provider CoreLogic. The annual gain was the biggest since March 2006. Prices on an annualized basis have now increased for 12 straight months, underscoring the recovery’s momentum.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday of each week. The average does not include extra fees, known as points, that most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.
The average fee for 30-year mortgages was unchanged at 0.8 point. The fee for 15-year loans also was steady, at 0.7 point.
The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage edged up to 2.63 percent from 2.62 percent last week. The fee for one-year adjustable-rate loans rose to 0.4 point from 0.3.
The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage fell to 2.65 percent from 2.68 percent. The fee declined to 0.5 point from 0.6.