It’s the lowest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage since Sept. Freddie Mac calls it an “encouraging development” for buyers as the market sentiment shifts.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate fell for the fifth week in a row, more good news for prospective homebuyers grappling with an increasingly unaffordable housing market.

The latest decline brought the average rate on a 30-year mortgage down to 7.22% from 7.29% last week, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday. A year ago, the rate averaged 6.49%.

The average rate on a 30-year mortgage is now at the lowest level it’s been in 10 weeks, when it was 7.19%.

“Market sentiment has significantly shifted over the last month, leading to a continued decline in mortgage rates,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “The current trajectory of rates is an encouraging development for potential homebuyers, with purchase application activity recently rising to the same level as mid-September when rates were similar to today’s levels.”

While the recent string of rate declines are welcome news for would-be homebuyers, the average rate on a 30-year home loan remains sharply higher than just two years ago, when it was around 3%.

Higher rates can add hundreds of dollars a month in costs for borrowers, limiting how much they can afford in a market already out of reach for many Americans. They also discourage homeowners who locked in rock-bottom rates two years ago from selling.

The average rate on a 30-year home loan climbed above 6% in September 2022 and has remained above that threshold since. In late October, it climbed to 7.79%, the highest level on records going back to late 2000. That helped push up the median monthly payment listed on home loan applications in October to $2,199, a 9.3% increase from a year earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported Thursday.

In the weeks since, however, the pullback in rates has spurred more buyers off the sidelines. Home loan applications rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3% last week from the previous week, the MBA said.

The elevated mortgage rates and a near-historic-low supply of homes on the market have held back the housing market this year. Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes, which slumped in October to their slowest pace in more than 13 years, are down 20.2% through the first 10 months of the year versus the same period in 2022.

Borrowing costs on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, popular with homeowners refinancing their home loan, also declined this week, with the average rate falling to 6.56% from 6.67% last week. A year ago, it averaged 5.76%, Freddie Mac said.

Rates have been declining in recent weeks along with the 10-year Treasury yield, which lenders use as a guide to pricing loans. The yield, which just a few weeks ago was above 5%, its highest level since 2007, has fallen amid hopes that inflation has cooled enough to pave the way for the Federal Reserve to cut rates.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury was at 4.32% in midday trading Thursday, up from 4.26% late Wednesday.

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