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US housing rebound likely to handle spike in rates

First Published      Last Updated Oct 04 2013 01:27 pm
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"I am concerned because prices are rising and higher rates squeeze your limits," said Brian Guzman, a broker at Coldwell Banker in Chicago who mostly caters to first-time buyers.

Many buyers are carefully watching the change in mortgage rates.

Jeff Tyni and his wife are still shopping for a home in Orange County, Calif., and would like to buy soon. But if rates go much higher, they may continue renting.

"I would say 5 percent is the tipping point," Tyni said. "If I have to pay over 5 percent, I'll just wait."

The Federal Reserve is also paying close attention to the spike in mortgage rates. It was a big reason the Fed opted last month not to slow its $85-billion-a-month in bond purchases, which are intended to keep longer-term interest rates low.

Rates began to increase in May after Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled the Fed might reduce those purchases, if the economy strengthened. But the Fed held off last month, and since then mortgage rates have fallen for three straight weeks.

Even small fluctuations in rates can translate into added costs or savings. In the case of the Williamses, it was a little of both.

The couple will close this month on a four-bedroom home. They secured a $607,000 mortgage in late September at 4.125 percent, a quarter-percentage point higher than what they were quoted in late May. That's $88 more a month, or $31,504 over 30 years.

Kevin Williams says it could have been worse. In early September, he was quoted a rate of 4.375 percent, which would have added another $89 each month.

Still, they are buying in San Diego, one of the nation's priciest real estate markets. The added financing costs convinced the couple to buy a smaller house.

"Essentially, we ended up giving up an extra bedroom," said Williams.

Home sales typically drop off in the fall because many buyers want their children enrolled in school when they move. Yet some brokers are still seeing steady demand.

Completed home sales at Century 21 Redwood Realty in Ashburn, Va. — about 30 miles outside of Washington, D.C. — are up 65 percent from a year ago, said Edward Berenbaum, co-owner of the brokerage. And attendance at open houses remains high.

"If you have a desirable listing that is priced where the market is, you're not going to be on the market for too many weekends," Berenbaum said.