Mortgage rates defy predictions: A good time to buy?

WASHINGTON – Jan. 13, 2016 – When the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December, people who had been flirting with buying a home worried they might have waited too long.

But worries about rising mortgage rates have been unwarranted. Since the Fed’s rate increase, rates on 30-year mortgages have dropped below 4 percent, and many mortgage experts expect them to stay below 4.25 percent this year.

The recent drop in rates “surprised a lot of people,” said James Bianco, president of Bianco Research. “People expected rates to be up, not down” after the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate. Instead, economic data on a slowing global economy has crimped expectations on the U.S. economy and interest rates.

“Nobody thinks inflation is a risk,” and rising inflation would prompt interest rates, like mortgages, to rise, Bianco said. Instead, the growing view is that instead of responding to a surge in the economy, the Federal Reserve was simply tweaking rates upward because they’d been ultra-low since the 2008 recession, Bianco said.

“I think the Fed wants to get out of the market manipulation game,” he said.

While that takes the pressure off potential homebuyers to make a quick move, PNC Bank economist Stuart Hoffman said people with adjustable-rate mortgages might find it worthwhile to convert to fixed-rate mortgages if their existing mortgages will start getting adjustments this year. A May adjustment could be up a half or three-quarters of a percent, he said.

Copyright © 2016 the Chicago Tribune, Gail Marks Jarvis. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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