FORTUNE – Mortgage interest rates have been rising on signs that the U.S. economy is improving. Last week, the 30-year fixed rate reached the highest level in more than six months, climbing to an average of 3.63%, compared with 3.52% the previous week and 3.92% a year earlier. The current rate is the highest it's been since the week of Aug. 23 when the 30-year fixed rate averaged 3.63%, according to Freddie Mac.
With economic prospects improving, rates could rise even higher this year. This increase could mathematically make buying a home more expensive, but it's unlikely to stall the housing recovery. To the contrary, higher rates could actually support it.
For the past few years, mortgage rates have sunk to new lows as the Federal Reserve continues to buy up hundreds of billions of dollars worth of bonds. The policy is meant to get everyone from investors to consumers to borrow and spend more. While it has driven many homeowners to refinance existing home loans, it hasn't spurred nearly as many mortgages for home purchases. In 2012, refinances made up 71% of all mortgage originations, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, a group that tracks mortgage rates and home loan trends.
Home sales last year rebounded more than most ever thought. Even if mortgage rates edged higher, the recovery could last for a few reasons.
For one, those who've been eyeing to buy a home may finally pull the trigger once they realize that borrowing is still cheap and it would be wise to lock in today's mortgage rate rather than wait and see where rates could fall tomorrow or months from now, says Andrea Heuson, finance professor at the University of Miami. "It could bring serious purchases back to the market."
To be sure, the Great Recession has proven that mortgage rates have almost no influence over home prices. And so the sustainability of the housing recovery will depend more on factors such as jobs growth than the cost of taking out a home loan.
If anything, slightly higher rates could reflect that slightly more risky borrowers are being offered credit following years of tighter lending standards. And this could be a good thing, says Barney Hartman-Glaser, real estate finance professor at Duke University.
"Although important, rising interest rates alone are not enough to slow down the housing recovery," says Hartman-Glaser, adding that "my sense is that underwriting standards are getting easier to satisfy, and so we would expect rates to rise as slightly more risky borrowers are brought into the fold."
However borrowers interpret higher rates, the increase ultimately reflects an improving economy. Which, in turn, is something that would support the housing recovery rather than stall it. Investors have increasingly turned to riskier investments since the start of the year. The stock market has reached new highs, making bonds look less attractive and therefore pushing mortgage rates higher.
Heuson adds the rise in mortgage rates coincides with growing demand for loans across U.S. businesses – a marked turnaround from the dark days of the financial crisis and subsequent economic recession. At the end of January, commercial and industrial loans stood at more than $1.5 trillion, up more than 12.5% from a year earlier. What's more, the current level is more than 75% above the low point of $870 billion in mid 2004, according to Federal Reserve statistics.
"From that perspective, the recent increase … bodes well for the future of the U.S. economy," Heuson says, adding that when businesses borrow more, that will typically boost the economy in all kinds of ways, from spurring jobs growth to raising consumer confidence.
And last but not least, it could encourage more home sales.
I wanted to share one of my passions with you. That is helping families in my community that are homeless or in financial crisis. I am the Redmond Windermere Office Foundation Rep and am the VP on the board of KITH- a non-profit charity. Both help families who find themelves in these situations. Please join me in helping these families, some that are living on the streets, some are living in their cars or couch surfing. Yes, these are people all over the Eastside. Did you know there are 27,000 students who are registered as homeless? And that the on Jan 24th volunteers discovered 2,736 people that were homeless throughout King County. That is up 142 from last year, and the 2012 count was on a clear night. This does not include the shelters or tent cities. So much work yet to be done...
Join us March 8 for the 4th Annual Fighting Homelessness Luncheon to benefit KITH programs helping homeless families gain stability and self-sufficiency.
Register today at www.kithcares.org/news/
For more info or to register go to:
Thanks you so much for anything you do to help people in need in our community!
Put lamps in the corners: Did you know you can switch to a lower wattage bulb in a lamp or lower its dimmer switch and not lose a noticeable amount of light? It’s all about placement. When a lamp is placed in a corner, the light reflects off the adjoining walls, which makes the room lighter and brighter.
Switch to a laptop: If you’re reading this article on a laptop, you’re using 1/3 less energy than if you’re reading this on a desktop.
Choose an LCD TV: If you’re among those considering a flat-screen upgrade from your conventional, CRT TV, choose an LCD screen for the biggest energy save.
Give your water heater a blanket: Just like you pile on extra layers in the winter, your hot water heater can use some extra insulation too. A fiberglass insulation blanket is a simple addition that can cut heat loss and save 4% to 9% on the average water-heating bill.
Turn off the burner before you’re done cooking: When you turn off an electric burner, it doesn’t cool off immediately. Use that to your advantage by turning it off early and using the residual heat to finish up your dish.
Add motion sensors: You might be diligent about shutting off unnecessary lights, but your kids? Not so much. Adding motion sensors to playrooms and bedrooms cost only $15 to $50 per light, and ensures you don’t pay for energy that you’re not using.
Spin laundry faster: The faster your washing machine can spin excess water out of your laundry, the less you’ll need to use your dryer. Many newer washers spin clothes so effectively, they cut drying time and energy consumption in half—which results in an equal drop in your dryer’s energy bill.
Use an ice tray: Stop using your automatic ice-maker. It increases your fridge’s energy consumption by 14% to 20%. Ice trays, on the other hand, don’t increase your energy costs one iota.
Use the dishwasher: If you think doing your dishes by hand is greener than powering up the dishwasher, you’re wrong. Dishwashers use about 1/3 as much hot water and relieve that much strain from your energy-taxing water heater. Added bonus: you don’t have to wash any dishes.
When we look back on 2012 a long time from now, it may be viewed as the first year of the recovery, the year in which real estate reversed its course and moved in a more positive direction.
With that in mind, here are 13 reasons — courtesy of REALTOR® Magazine’s online news.
1. There’s greater optimism about increasing home values.
2. More new households are forming.
3. Home shoppers are feeling a greater sense of urgency.
4. Home ownership remains a goal of members of the Millennial generation.
5. Foreclosure starts are falling to pre-housing-bust levels.
6. Interest rates should remain low through next year’s selling season.
7. Loan demand for home purchases is climbing.
8. More Americans say it’s a good time to sell.
9. The number of improving housing markets is going up.
10. Job creation is expected to provide a much-needed boost to the commercial sector.
12. As housing values rise and equity returns, fewer home owners are underwater.
13. Real estate is contributing to an overall economic recovery.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. Lending remains tight, there’s a large foreclosure backlog, and regulatory challenges and the fiscal cliff loom ahead. But on balance, real estate appears to have a bright future in 2013.
Wishing you a very safe and Happy Holidays!