Cover Story: 30-Year Mortgage at Record Level

CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - How low can they go?  Mortgage rates drop to a record low but is it enough to get you to buy?

For the first time ever, rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage are below 4-percent.


Is it enough to start moving some of the nearly 21,000 homes on the market in the Charlotte metro area?

A lot of people have homes to sell or they're hoping someone's going to buy that foreclosed home that's been sitting in their neighborhood for months.  Could this finally be what the housing market needs to get things going?

Those in the housing and banking industry certainly hope so.

Still rates have been near historic lows for more than a year now and have done little to boost home sales.

Greta Clark knows about spinning wheels.  It's been a roller coaster ride for three years now ever since she lost her job at Philip Morris in Concord.

Clark says it's been a struggle to keep up with her mortgage payments.

"It's tough but I'm making them - slowly," she said.

Clark and her friends showed up at Fifth Third Bank's "Empowering Communities" bus which was parked on a shopping center lot in Concord Thursday.

"You never know where you're going until you know where you are," says Jada Grandy, a senior vice president of community development with Fifth Third Bank.

The bus, which WBTV is helping sponsor, offers neighbors free credit reports, home ownership assistance among a host of other services.

It's timely material according to Louise Mack head of Prosperity Unlimited a non-profit housing counseling agency and a bus sponsor.

"This is the best time to buy a home even though the economy is a little crazy," says Mack.

Concerned about the economy coming off the tracks the Federal Reserve announced last month a complicated securities swap program it's calling "Operation Twist."

It's helping send mortgage rates lower.

A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage now is below 4-percent where it's never been before.

On a 15-year fixed loan (a popular refinancing option) it's dipped to 3.26% - also a record.

A drop in mortgage rates could provide some help to the economy.

"It's a great time for home ownership," says Grandy, "for those individuals who have worked really hard and prepared themselves financially it's a great time to still get in the marketplace."

But keeping people on the sidelines they can't sell their current home and some are afraid to buy now especially if the housing market goes lower.

The latest rate-drop could spur a flood of refinancing putting more money in peoples' pockets.

Trouble is many homeowners with good jobs and stable finances have already refinanced over the last year.

And experts say rates would need to fall at least full percentage point before it makes sense to refinance again.

For homeowners like Greta Clark today's news gives them some hope.  She said, "Well it's great. It might help me not go into foreclosure. I don't want that to happen."

Experts point out to be able to take advantage of a sub four-percent loan a borrower needs a credit score of 700 or better - that's up from 650 during the mid 2000s.

Tighter lending has locked out 13 million households from getting a mortgage.

Some say mortgage rates could go lower with the Fed reshuffling its portfolio of securities in an effort to lower long-term rates.

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