Mortgage rates on downturn

WASHINGTON - Rates on 30-year mortgages sank this week to their lowest point in two months, a dose of good news for people thinking about buying a home.

Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.59 percent. That was down from 6.68 percent last week and was the lowest since early June, when rates stood at 6.53 percent.

The moderation is a piece of welcome news for prospective homebuyers, some of whom also have been faced with a situation of harder-to-get credit. In mid-June, rates on 30-year mortgages had climbed to 6.74 percent, an 11-month high.

Mortgages rates have ebbed as recent stock market turbulence has prompted investors to plow money into bonds, driving down rates on bonds. That, in turn, has pushed down rates on mortgages, which have eased amid signs the economy is growing gradually and hiring has cooled off a bit. The unemployment rate inched up to 4.6 percent in July, a six month high.

Rates on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, a popular choice for refinancing, also moved lower this week. They dropped to 6.25 percent, from 6.32 percent last week. Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 5.65 percent, compared with 5.59 percent last week.

Rates on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages rose this week to 6.33 percent, from last week's average of 6.29 percent.

The mortgage rates do not include add-on fees known as points. Thirty-year and 15-year mortgages each carried a nationwide average fee of 0.4 point. Five-year and one-year ARMs each carried an average fee of 0.5 point.

A year ago, rates on 30-year mortgages stood at 6.55 percent, 15-year mortgages were at 6.20 percent, five-year adjustable-rate mortgages also averaged 6.21 percent and one-year ARMs were at 5.69 percent.

After a five-year boom, the housing market fell into a slump last year. Sales turned weak as did home prices. The slump is expected to drag on probably through the rest of this year.

Worries that the housing slump will worsen and that credit problems in the home mortgage market will spread, possibly hurting the broader financial system and the overall economy, have fed turmoil on Wall Street. Stocks have been swinging wildly in recent weeks.

Problems first sprouted in the market for higher-risk mortgages, which are held by people with tarnished credit histories. But some problems have spilled over to more creditworthy borrowers.

Foreclosures up

Home foreclosures, meanwhile, have climbed to record highs.

As a result, lenders have been tightening credit standards, making it harder for some people to find financing for big-ticket purchases, such as homes and cars.

The National Association of Realtors on Wednesday lowered its forecast for sales of existing homes - a big chunk of the housing market. It predicted sales would total 6.04 million this year, which would be the lowest level since 2002. A previous forecast had projected sales of 6.11 million for this year. On the web

Area Rates drop

South Sound interest rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage also have dropped in the last month, a mortgage broker said Thursday.

Rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage have dropped from about 6.50 percent to about 6.25 percent, said Randy Luke, branch manager and senior loan officer with Horizon Mortgage of Olympia.

The Olympian