Rising Mortgage Rates? Don’t Fall For That Myth

January 3, 2017 - 4 min read

Are “Soaring” Mortgage Rates Really Soaring?

There’s no doubt about it. Rising mortgage rates have been a reality for the past few months, and the increases have some potential homebuyers worrying about affordability. But, there’s no need to panic. Today’s rising rates may be less worrisome than a lot of people believe.

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Rising Mortgage Rates Increase Monthly Payments

Let’s start with the basics. First, given a choice between low rates and higher rates, you always want the cheaper variety.

Second, the reports you have read are right: rates have risen. According to Freddie Mac, the cost of fixed-rate 30-year prime mortgages was 4.30 percent just before Christmas versus 3.44 percent on September 8th. That’s a difference of .86 percent.

If we borrow $200,000 at 4.3 percent, the monthly principal and interest is $989.74. The same loan at 3.44 percent costs $891.40 per month, a difference of $98.34.

Okay, so what could possibly be good about this picture?

Rising Rates Don’t Necessarily Mean Higher Costs

Let’s say that in September 2016, a couple could afford $891.40 principal and interest payments. They could buy a home worth $250,000 with 20 percent down ($50,000) and a $200,000 loan.

If rates rise to 4.3 percent, and the buyers can still only afford $891.40 a month, their borrowing power has gone down. If they still put $50,000 down, they could buy a $230,128 house with no payment increase.

The big question is whether with higher interest rates, home appreciation will slow or even fall. If the answer is yes, rising rates may simply mean fewer competing bids and lower home prices — in other words, the home that formerly fetched $250,000 may only sell for $230,128.

If this sounds unlikely, consider what the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported for the third quarter of 2016 — that existing home prices fell in 22 metros. And the third quarter ended in September — months before mortgage rates really took off.

For 2017, the NAR is forecasting “minimal” gains. The organization’s Chief Economist, Lawrence Yun, told HousingWire that “existing home sales are expected to see little expansion next year because of affordability tensions from rising mortgage rates and prices continuing to outpace income growth.”

Rising Mortgage Rates & Refinancing

For those who wish to refinance, the goal is to find a replacement mortgage with better terms, or to switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage to financing with a fixed rate.

The marketplace reality is that refinancing levels are likely to fall as mortgage rates rise, especially today when many have already secured mortgages with very low interest rates.

That said, there will still be some refinancing, because even with today’s higher rates, large numbers of borrowers can still get a financial advantage. Analysts at CoreLogic report that 23 percent of all existing mortgages in September had a rate of at least five percent.

Many borrowers with such loans can benefit from new financing at some point.

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Rising Mortgage Rates And The ARM Switcheroo

Most borrowers simply do not opt for adjustable-rate mortgages. According to Ellie Mae, just 3.9 percent of the mortgages closed in November were ARMs.

One central issue with ARMs is that borrowers worry that rates will rise in the future. It’s a realistic concern, but consider this: you can get hybrid ARMs. These loans have fixed rates for three, five, seven or ten years before they adjust.

Taking a fixed rate loan when you don’t need one can be costly. For instance, when 30-year fixed-rate prime loans were at 4.30 percent in December, 5/1 ARMs were at 3.32 percent. That’s nearly a full percent lower.

If you still own your home when the introductory fixed period ends, you’ll have paid down part of your balance. Your new payment will be based on the remaining loan balance, and interest rate increases are limited by the terms of your loan. (These limits are called “caps.”)

Freddie Mac said in the third quarter of 2016, the typical loan was repaid in just 4.5 years. Many borrowers will never worry about higher rates, because 5/1 ARMs don’t begin adjusting for five years.

Rising Mortgage Rates And Perspective

Back in 1981, the average rate for a prime mortgage was 16.62 percent. Seriously. And that’s for well-funded borrowers who could put down 20 percent and avoid mortgage insurance.

It might follow that with such absurd mortgage rates the housing market would collapse. But that’s not what happened. In 1981, the country had 2.4 million existing home sales and roughly 95 million fewer people than we have today.

Meanwhile, in 2017, we’re looking at interest rates which are a fraction of what we saw in 1981.

“The era of ultra-low interest rates is over,” said Lawrence Yun, when the Fed raised bank rates in December.

“Today’s short-term rate hike will be followed by several additional rounds of increases in 2017 and 2018. Despite these moves, mortgage rates will not rise alarmingly. By this time next year, expect the 30-year fixed rate to likely be in the 4.5 percent to 5 percent range.”

And Rates Might Drop Again Anyway

If it’s any comfort, it’s possible that mortgage rates will follow the pattern we saw in 2016. Remember that several Fed increases were predicted for 2016 and higher mortgage levels were widely expected.

Instead, there was just one Fed increase, and mortgage rates fell steadily for the first half of the year, going from 3.97 percent for prime financing at the start of January to 3.41 percent in early July.

So, when someone tells you mortgage rates will surely rise in 2017, forget tea leaves and economic forecasts and instead watch your local market. Keep your eyes on home prices and mortgage rates.

What Are Today’s Mortgage Rates?

Today’s mortgage rates depend on your borrower profile, the property you want to finance, and economic conditions worldwide.

Look at your budget and see how monthly costs add up. The realities of the marketplace may be very different when compared with the forecasts – and a lot less frightening.

Time to make a move? Let us find the right mortgage for you

Peter Miller
Authored By: Peter Miller
The Mortgage Reports contributor
Peter G. Miller, author of The Common Sense Mortgage, is a real estate writer syndicated in more than ​50​ newspapers nationwide. Peter has been featured on Oprah, the Today Show, Money Magazine, CNN and more.