Historically Low Mortgage Rates Have Builders Celebrating Like It's 1999

Doug Whiteman
Historically Low Mortgage Rates Have Builders Celebrating Like It's 1999

People who build houses for a living have been putting down their power tools to do some high-fiving the last two months, largely because of today's exceptionally low mortgage rates, a trade group says.

Homebuilders have felt more optimistic in December and January than at any time since July 1999, the National Association of Home Builders reported this week.

That confidence is helping to drive the surge in new construction that's seen in another new report, on housing starts. It's all great news for homebuyers who've been eager to take advantage of low rates but have been frustrated by shortages of available homes in some parts of the U.S.

Low mortgage rates lift builders' spirits

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A monthly pulse-reading finds that while builders' confidence has slipped a notch this month, optimism levels in December and January together have been the highest since July 1999. That's according to the Housing Market Index from the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo.

“Low interest rates and a healthy labor market combined with a need for additional inventory are setting the stage for further home building gains in 2020,” says Greg Ugalde, chairman of the builders trade group.

Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.9% in 2019, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac, making last year the fourth lowest for mortgage rates since the company began doing a weekly survey in 1971.

So far this month, rates have been the lowest for January since 2013.

Have a look at today's best mortgage rates where you are.

Home construction surges

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With builders feeling upbeat, starts on new homes soared in December to the highest level in 13 years, according to a new government report. Warm weather helped push the number of groundbreakings up 16.9% compared to the level seen in November.

Robert Dietz, chief economist with the National Association of Home Builders, says the industry should keep going strong, despite some challenges.

“Builders continue to grapple with a shortage of lots and labor, while buyers are frustrated by a lack of inventory, particularly among starter homes," Dietz says.

But low interest rates from the Federal Reserve and "attractive mortgage rates" should help keep the housing market hopping, he says.

Use this calculator to see the kind of monthly payment you can expect from today's low rates.

Just how low are mortgage rates?

Andrii Yalanskyi / Shutterstock

Mortgage rates are hovering around their lowest levels in three months, according to Freddie Mac's latest survey.

The average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is now 3.65%, up slightly from last week's 3.64%. The loans in the firm's survey come with an average 0.7 point.

One year ago, the benchmark mortgage rate was more than three-quarters of a percentage point higher, at an average 4.45%.

Thirty-year mortgage rates are the lowest for mid-January in seven years, MoneyWise.com has found, by reviewing Freddie Mac's historical data.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages have inched up to an average 3.09%, from 3.07% last week. Those loans are a popular choice among homeowners who refinance.

A year ago, 15-year mortgages were averaging 3.88%, Freddie Mac says.

This week, rates have jumped on 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, which are level for five years and then can adjust up — or down — each year.

ARMs are currently being offered at an average initial rate of 3.39%, up from last week's 3.30%. Last year at this time, the starter rates on ARMs were averaging 3.87%.

Check out today's lowest mortgage rates available where you are.