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Refi Madness: With Historic Low Rates, Homeowners Scramble to Refinance Mortgages

Scott Smith
3 min read
Refi Madness: With Historic Low Rates, Homeowners Scramble to Refinance Mortgages

With interest rates hovering at historic lows (around 3% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan), homeowners refinancing old mortgages represented 62% of all lending activity in the second quarter of 2020.

Nearly 1.7 million residential property mortgages (an estimated $513 billion) were refinanced in April, May, and June, according to Irvine, California-based ATTOM Data Solutions, a leading residential real estate property data company. “Residential properties” were defined as one to four units.

The Q2 economy sagged under virus-related lockdowns and uncertainty. In spite of this, the lending market remains buoyed by cheap money, and many homeowners opted to take advantage of low rates to roll over their loans. Mortgage rollovers shot to the highest level in seven years—up almost 50% from the prior quarter and more than 100% from the same period in 2019.

While refinancing activity soared, purchase mortgage activity dropped to just 28.8% of all home loans in the second quarter of 2020. Home equity lending (HELOCs) declined to 9.2%.

Related: Mortgage Refinances Just Got More Expensive: New Fee Could Cost Homeowners Thousands

“The second quarter of 2020 really was a tale of two markets for lenders,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer at ATTOM Data. “One saw a continued flood of homeowners refinancing their loans at lower interest rates while the other saw a drop in home-purchase and home-equity borrowing.”

That happened as the worldwide coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States, stifling consumer spending and prompting untold numbers of potential home seekers to stay out of the housing market.

 

Mortgage Originations Q2 2020

Refinance Originations Double in Most of the Nation

Lenders originated 1,686,340 refinance mortgages in the second quarter of 2020, up 47% from the first quarter of the year and up 126% from the second quarter of 2019—to the highest level since the second quarter of 2013.

Residential refinance mortgage originations increased from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020 in all but one of the 211 metropolitan statistical areas that had a population greater than 200,000 and at least 1,000 total loans. The number at least doubled in 158, or 74.9%, of those metro areas, led by Madison, Wisconsin (up 403.7%); Hilton Head, South Carolina (up 358.7%); Charleston, South Carolina (up 322.4%); Greenville, South Carolina (up 321.8%) and Lincoln, Nebraska (up 269.2%).

Related: Small Town Markets Have Huge Investment Potential in 2020—Here’s Why (& How to Capitalize on It)

Metro areas with at least 1 million people that saw refinance activity at least doubled, year over year, in the second quarter of 2020 included:

  • Washington, DC (up 219.9%)
  • Milwaukee, WI (up 213.1%)
  • Austin, TX (up 211.9%)
  • Raleigh, NC (up 205.3%)
  • Birmingham, AL (up 198.4%)

Pittsburgh was the only metro area where refinance mortgages decreased in the second quarter, measured year over year (down 5.7%). Those with the smallest annual increases were:

  • Lexington, KY (up 7.5%)
  • Myrtle Beach, SC (up 8.6%)
  • Syracuse, NY (up 22%)
  • Gulfport, MS (up 25.4%)

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Purchase Mortgage Originations Down

Lenders originated 782,829 residential purchase mortgages in the second quarter of 2020, up 14% from the previous quarter but down 2% from the same period in 2019.

Residential purchase mortgage originations decreased from a year ago in 132 of the 211 metro areas analyzed for the report (62.6%). The largest declines were in:

  • Myrtle Beach, SC (down 75.1%)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (down 64.6%)
  • Lynchburg, VA (down 41.5%)
  • Jackson, MS (down 41%)
  • Charlottesville, VA (down 40.9%)

Related: The No. 1 Most Overlooked Real Estate Market

Aside from Pittsburgh, metro areas with at least 1 million people and the biggest year-over-year decreases in purchase originations were:

  • Detroit, MI (down 37%)
  • Hartford, CT (down 30.7%)
  • Boston, MA (down 29.8%)
  • Philadelphia, PA (down 27.6%)

Counter to the national trend, residential purchase mortgage lending increased in the second quarter of 2020 from a year ago in 79 of the 211 metro areas analyzed. The greatest increases were in:

  • Davenport, IA (up 150.5%)
  • South Bend, IN (up 135%)
  • Provo, UT (up 74.1%)
  • Santa Rosa, CA (up 73.7%)
  • San Diego, CA (up 70.3%)

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HELOC Originations Down

A total of 249,744 home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) were originated on residential properties in the second quarter of 2020, down 9% from the previous quarter and down 25% from a year earlier.

Residential HELOC mortgage originations decreased from a year ago in 90.3% of metropolitan statistical areas that have a population greater than 200,000 and sufficient data to analyze. Some of the largest included:

  • Charleston, SC (down 70.4%)
  • Columbia, SC (down 68.3%)
  • Greenville, SC (down 65.2%)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (down 60.5%)
  • Detroit, MI (down 51.8%)

Counter to the national trend, residential HELOC mortgage originations increased in the second quarter of 2020 from a year ago or stayed the same in 9.7% of metro areas with sufficient data. Some of the increases were in:

  • Davenport, IA (up 43.3%)
  • Youngstown, OH (up 5.5%)
  • Ogden, UT (up 5%)
  • Provo, UT (up 1.9%)
  • Des Moines, IA (up 1.9%)

FHA Loan Share Sinks to 12-year Low

Mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) accounted for 248,544, or 9.1% of all residential property loans originated in the second quarter of 2020. That was down from 12.6% of all loans in the first quarter of 2020 and 13.4% in the second quarter of 2019—to the lowest level since the first quarter of 2008.

Residential loans backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accounted for 230,808 or 8.5% of all residential property loans originated in the second quarter of 2020, down from 9.9% in the previous quarter but up from 7.5% a year ago.

See ATTOM Data’s “Q2 2020 U.S. Residential Property Mortgage Origination Report” for the complete overview.

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.