Monday, December 11, 2017
Business

Rising mortgage rates have yet to slow Tampa Bay's housing market

When mortgage rates climbed last month to their highest point in two years, some market watchers believed potential home buyers might get discouraged.

But rising loan rates have yet to block many buyers out of the housing market. Tampa Bay home sales have actually grown in recent weeks, as buyers rush to lock in rates still near historic lows.

Rates for 30-year fixed-rate loans have climbed a full percentage point over the past three months, to 4.37 percent, and each small uptick can make a big difference in what a buyer can afford.

When rates here bottomed out in early May, a $200,000 loan cost $883 a month. Today the same loan would cost $998.

But economists and real estate agents argue today's loans haven't surged so high they'll block out the typical buyer. Though refinancings have plummeted, new buyers remain energized to act for fear rates could climb even more.

"I've had rates go up on people waiting to get new permits and they still buy. It doesn't stop them," Domain Homes real estate agent Michele Brigandi said. "The reality is, they're still near all-time lows. My first house I bought in the early '80s, I spent 13 percent."

Over the past six weeks, when rates averaged 4.2 percent, more than 2,900 Tampa Bay homes, townhomes and condos sold to new mortgages, listing data show.

That's about 10 percent more sales than the six weeks before that, even though rates then averaged 3.5 percent. (The sales bump stands up when accounting for seasonal shifts, too.)

If rates continue to climb, however, they could eat into home affordability.

But because today's rates remain historically low — interest rates since 1976 have averaged 8.6 percent — economists believe the market still has plenty of room to grow.

"It's still too early to worry about rising mortgage rates," a Wells Fargo analysts report said Friday. "We are still in the early innings of the housing recovery."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]

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