On the Up and Up: Housing Stays Strong into New Year

Home loan applications increased in early January, as a weaker-than-expected December employment report sent interest rates lower. Home loan rates had been on the rise up until the report, and just as the Fed announced its decision to "taper" its Bond-buying stimulus efforts.

Both purchase, as well as refinance loan application volume increased by 12 and 11 percent, respectively, on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. "The drop in rates was (also) large enough to trigger a pickup in refinance volume," said Michael Fratantoni, the MBA's chief economist.

The rise in purchase applications could be a signal of a strong home buying season this spring. Many in the real estate industry were concerned that new mortgage rules in effect mid-January would knock some potential borrowers out of the market. In reality the impact may be insignificant, considering that 95 percent of mortgages originated last year would still qualify under the new rules, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Rising home prices, historically low mortgage rates, and significant pent-up demand will drive a continuing, gradual recovery in the year ahead," said the National Association of Home Builders Chief Economist David Crowe.

Confidence among U.S. home-builders stuck in January after a bigger jump in December, according to the NAHB's monthly home builder sentiment index. The index came in at 56—and with 50 being the difference between positive and negative, it showed that builders are still optimistic about housing market conditions.

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