Homebuyers nationwide feel pinch of rising rates

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Amy and Ted Wilder lost out in the bidding for several Seattle-area homes during the past six months, even with offers well above asking price. After May's sudden spike in mortgage rates, the Microsoft consultants put their search on hold.

"We fell in love with a house for about $400,000 and thought we could afford it, and then we discovered it was $300 more a month than what we would have paid in February when we started looking," Amy Wilder, 42, said. "The mortgage rates just pushed it too far."

A surge in borrowing costs to a two-year high is starting to cool demand from homebuyers as higher rates combine with surging prices to reduce affordability, according to data released this week. The biggest pinch is being felt in expensive markets such as Seattle and New York, where budgets already were stretched, leading to a more uneven national recovery.

Contracts to buy previously owned homes fell 1.3 percent last month, the biggest decline this year, the National Association of Realtors said two days ago. They slid 6.5 percent in the Northeast and 4.9 percent in the West, the data showed. The figures followed a report last week that July new-home sales plunged 13.4 percent, paced by a 16.1 percent drop in the West.

"There is a bigger monthly payment shock in the high-cost areas," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors group. "Higher interest rates may pull demand out."

Home-loan applications for purchases have declined 14 percent since the start of May when interest rates surged by the most in two decades, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, and price appreciation has slowed, albeit from the fastest pace in seven years.

The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate purchase loan has risen to 4.51 percent from a record-low 3.31 percent in November, according to McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac, as the Federal Reserve said it's planning to wean the economy from its record stimulus.

That means on a $400,000 conventional mortgage, monthly payments would be about $275 more. Rates on jumbo mortgages, those too big for government programs, have climbed to 4.69 percent from 3.88 percent at the beginning of May.

"We came into the market when we were ready, but it turned out we just missed the good deals," Amy Wilder said. "If prices soften a little bit and interest rates level out, maybe we can try again."