Mortgage Demand Falls

Demand for loans to buy homes and refinance mortgages slid in the final week of 2011, even as mortgage rates dipped, an industry group said on Wednesday.

Applications for U.S. home mortgages fell 4.1 percent in the week ended December 30, weighed down by a 9.6 percent drop in purchase loan requests and a 2.5 percent decline in refinancing requests, seasonally adjusted data from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed.

Average 30-year conforming mortgage rates dipped to the year's low of 4.07 percent from 4.10 percent the prior week, and well below 4.82 percent at the end of 2010.

The slide to near-record-low borrowing rates has spurred more homeowners to seek refinancing, propelling that index up more than 60 percent in 2011.

But demand for loans to buy homes fell in the year, as borrowers struggled to come up with enough cash for down payments or stayed on the sidelines due to worries about unemployment. Some buyers had also leapt into the market in 2010 to take advantage of a first-time buyer tax credit.

The MBA said it does not expect any quick rebound in the mortgage market.

"As part of legislation to extend the payroll tax holiday, guarantee fees for loans purchased by the GSEs and mortgage insurance premiums for FHA loans will eventually increase," Michael Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of research and economics, said in a statement. "Given the announced implementation of this change, we do not expect to see an impact on mortgage rates and application activity until at least February."

Bob Moulton, president of Americana Mortgage Group in Manhasset, New York, said the company's pipeline of loan requests is off to a better start in 2012 than the same time a year ago, boosted by refinancing.

But caution prevails with a big overhang of unsold homes and the presidential election looming, he said.

Refinancing applications represented about 82 percent of total mortgage activity in the latest week, the highest share of the year.

"It's going to be another couple of years until these short sales and foreclosures are flushed out of the system, so you might see a little weakness in prices this year," Moulton added. "We're feeling a little better about 2012 than 2011, but you're always waiting for the next shoe to drop."

The MBA released data for two weeks on Wednesday, rather than one, because of the Christmas and New Year holidays.

In the week ended December 23, total mortgage demand climbed 0.3 percent, with refinancing up 0.5 percent and purchase applications down 0.1 percent.

The survey covers over 75 percent of U.S. retail residential mortgage applications, according to MBA.