Mortgage Rates Start Inching Higher

The Federal Reserve has stopped buying up mortgages, something it began doing during the financial crisis to prop up the housing sector. Mortgage rates have been creeping up in recent days. The Fed has promised to step back in if the market encounters serious problems, but analysts are hoping the market can function again on its own.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And here in the U.S., interest rates on home loans have crept up. A 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage is now about 5 and a quarter percent.

NPR's Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH: If you ask a mortgage industry expert why rates are up, you'll get a whole list of contributing factors - like last week's move by the Federal Reserve to stop buying up mortgage-backed securities, and the upward drift in rates on U.S. Treasury bonds. Mortgage rates are indexed to those treasuries.

No matter the cause, many believed it was only a matter of time before mortgage interest rates climbed out of the bargain basement.

Tom LaMalfa is a consultant who has been watching the industry for 30 years.

Mr. TOM LAMALFA (Consultant): From any historical context, it's - we're at the bottom end, the way-bottom end of the range over the last - say, three decades.

KEITH: Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, says we could see 6 percent mortgages by year-end.

Mr. LAWRENCE YUN (Chief Economist, National Association of Realtors): What will be critical in the second half of the year for the housing market is whether or not there will be other, new support factors coming into the marketplace.

KEITH: He says it will take improvements in the job market and some stability in home prices to get many people back in the buying mood.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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