When the pandemic began towards the end of the first quarter in 2020, people were understandably reluctant to start purchasing houses. As a result, mortgage applications saw a sharp decrease. However, they rebounded quickly, surpassing 2019’s numbers even while trending downwards again in December. In the week ending December 23rd, 2020, mortgage applications dropped 5% from the prior week, yet remained 26% higher than the same week in 2019. As a result of low mortgage rates, refinances shot up in 2020, increasing 4% in the aforementioned week to end 124% higher than the prior year.
So we know that more people sought new mortgages in 2020 because mortgage rates are low, but what does the recent downward trend mean for the market in the near future? Well, probably not much. While some attribute the decrease to the housing shortage and rising prices, the fact of the matter is that this has been the case for quite some time. It’s actually more likely just seasonal variation — mortgage applications already have a tendency to decrease near the holiday season. The pandemic could have some impact, but we’ve already seen that the sharp decline earlier in the year was completely mitigated by low rates increasing demand. A more telling statistic is the average loan balance, which set a record high of $376,800. This is because much of the available housing is on the higher end, pointing to a deficit of affordable housing.