US average mortgage rates steady; 30-year stays at 4.81 pct.

U.S. long-term mortgage rates barely budged this week after marking the biggest drop in nearly four years a week earlier.

Home borrowing rates remain much higher than they were a year ago. Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage held steady at 4.81 percent this week. That compares with 3.90 percent a year ago.

The rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans edged up to 4.25 percent from 4.24 percent the previous week.

Mortgage rates were pushed sharply lower last week by tumbling oil prices and a sliding stock market. But they have increased over the past year amid the strong economy and anxiety over rising interest rates.

The higher mortgage rates have kept many potential homebuyers on the sidelines. But in recent weeks buyers have jumped on the stability of rates, sparking an increase in applications for mortgages, Freddie Mac chief economist Sam Khater said. That means despite higher rates, "there are buyers on the fence waiting for the right time to buy," he said.

Mortgage purchase applications rose 9 percent in the week ended Nov. 23 from a week earlier and were up 2 percent from a year earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Nonetheless, sales of new homes plummeted 8.9 percent in October as the number of newly built, unsold homes sitting on the market climbed to its highest level since 2009, the government reported Wednesday. New-home sales have declined in four of the past five months, demonstrating that the housing market has stalled after years of home prices rising faster than incomes.

And data issued Thursday by the National Association of Realtors showed that fewer people signed contracts in October to buy homes. The group's index of pending home sales based on contract signings has dropped 6.7 percent from a year earlier.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday each week.

The average doesn't include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates.

The average fee on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose to 0.5 point this week from 0.4 point last week. The fee on 15-year mortgages fell to 0.4 point from 0.5 point.

The average rate for five-year adjustable-rate mortgages increased to 4.12 percent from 4.09 percent last week. The fee remained at 0.3 point.