Economists say the mortgage market has already priced in another Fed rate increase. Home buyers dreading another rate increase by the Federal Reserve on Wednesday can take heart: The move is probably already priced into current mortgage rates.

The Fed raised interest rates another quarter-percentage point on Wednesday, lifting the benchmark federal-funds rate to a 16-year high as part of its continuing campaign to stamp out inflation. The Fed doesn’t set mortgage rates, but rate increases push up the yield on the Treasury note higher, which in turn pushes up the cost of a mortgage.

Still, economists say the mortgage market has largely absorbed this rate increase and an expected pause in increases in coming months.

Mortgage rates appear to have already topped out at 7% and have been averaging mid-6% during the past months, which could be the new normal for now, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at National Association of Realtors. Rates are probably headed toward 6% or lower by the end of the year, he said.

A year ago, the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 5.22%, according to Bankrate.

Even if rates may have topped out, home buyers still face a major hurdle right now, a lack of properties on the market, said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. Inventory will likely remain low as current homeowners are reluctant to relinquish their low-rate mortgages.

“Many home buyers are seeing how little there is for sale and are giving up,” said Ms. Fairweather.

For those still determined to buy, advisers said to focus on their budget and potential loan terms. They also said that buyers need to really ask themselves if they have to do this right now.

Stick to a budget and set priorities

If you’re ready to buy, make sure that you’re not taking on more debt than you can afford, said David Dodd, a financial planner in Mt. Vernon, Ind.

Ideally the housing payment would be no more than 28% of your income, including principal, interest, taxes and insurance, he said. Though if you live in a higher-cost area, that cap may not be realistic, he said.

Home buyers should ask sellers for a list of all the carrying costs associated with the house and request statements for heating, cooling and landscaping, said Cindy Scholz, a Realtor in East Hampton, N.Y.

Shop around for a loan

While you’re waiting for more homes to come on the market, use the time to get familiar with different loan structures and shop around among lenders, financial advisers said.

Don’t be scared off by a lender’s first offer, said Robert Heck, vice president of mortgage at online mortgage marketplace Morty. There is room for negotiation and several ways to structure a loan that works best for your financial situation, he said.

You may wish to consider paying for a lower mortgage rate by buying points on the loan. A point is a fee you pay to your lender that reduces your mortgage rate by a set amount, a quarter percentage point, for example. Each point costs 1% of the value of the loan.

Buying points may help people who don’t qualify for the lowest mortgage rate because of their credit score, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate. Points often take as many as six years to break even, so you will only come out ahead if you have the loan for at least that long, he said. Points are typically paid at closing, which along with other closing costs are usually paid with a cashier’s check, said Mr. McBride.

You might also consider an adjustable-rate mortgage, said Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma. ARMs can lower your monthly payments as they typically come with a lower initial rate than a 30-year fixed mortgage. It can be a more cost-effective way to enter the market, particularly if you don’t plan to stay in the home long-term, she said.

Average rates on adjustable mortgages the week of April 26 ranged from 6.03% to 6.71%, depending on the loan terms, according to Bankrate’s national survey of large lenders.

It is important to remember that after an initial period (usually five, seven or 10 years), ARM interest rates reset at regular intervals, based on one of several indexes. The potential for significantly higher rates and payments in the future makes ARMs riskier than fixed-rate mortgages.

When to consider postponing your house hunt

John Bovard, a financial planner in Cincinnati, is generally advising clients to delay buying a home until the end of the year, when the Fed could potentially lower interest rates.

If you need to buy now, know there are ways to possibly reduce your costs and compete with other buyers.

Consider new-home construction, said Rick Sharga, chief executive of CJ Patrick, a real- estate consulting firm. This might seem counterintuitive, since new homes are usually more expensive, but builders are more likely to offer concessions or reduce prices to lower mortgage rates than typical homeowners, he said.

Though mortgage rates are significantly higher than they were a year ago, buyers may have options to reduce their costs in coming years.

“Be prepared to refinance in the next 12 to 24 months as markets price in potential Fed cuts,” said John Boyd, a financial planner in Scottsdale, Ariz.

By Veronica Dagher

Wall Street Journal

Write to Veronica Dagher at Veronica.Dagher@wsj.com

By Veronica Dagher

 


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