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Mortgage data provider Optimal Blue said mortgage refinancing saw a boost in December both nationwide and in Greater Boston as mortgage interest rates dropped from 20-year highs in the fall.

According to Optimal Blue’s monthly Originations Market Monitor report, rate/term refinances at the national level increased by 43 percent in December on a month-over-month basis, increasing refinance share in the mortgage market to 19 percent from 14 percent in November.

“Mortgage rates continued to fall in December, with the Fed delivering welcomed commentary suggesting rates may have peaked with cuts on the horizon in 2024. The sharp drop in rates provided tailwinds that caused rate/term refinance volume to rise a notable 43 percent month over month,” Brennan O’Connell, data solutions manager at Optimal Blue, said in a statement.

“Despite cash-out [refinance] volume declining 9 percent, the total refinance share of locks rose to 19 percent in December – the highest level since April 2022,” he added.

Rate locks declined by 23 percent, with December being traditionally the slowest month for homebuyer activity, O’Connell said.

The adjustable-rate mortgages, which grew in popularity among homebuyers thanks to mortgage rates above 7 percent, saw a slowdown. The Optimal Blue report said the ARM share of locks continued to fall, dropping to 5.2 percent of total volume in December, indicating further fading of consumer interest in the product.

The 30-year fixed conforming loan rate was 6.57 percent in December, a 54-basis point decrease from the 7.11 percent recorded rate in November, according to Optimal Blue’s Mortgage Market Index. The average loan amount in the country also increased to $349,524 in December from $336,256 a month ago. Weekly surveys by mortgage-buyer Freddie Mac reported that the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate home loan peaked at 7.79 percent for the seven days ending Oct. 26 and fell substantially every week between then and Dec. 31 to end the year at 6.61 percent.

More people in the Boston metropolitan statistical area (MSA) decided to avail themselves of purchase mortgages in December compared to a year ago, as Greater Boston’s share of the total purchase rate locks in the country improved to 2 percent in December 2023 from 1.7 percent in December 2022.

Demand for refinances in the area also improved year-on-year from 13 percent share of local originations in December 2022 to 20 percent in December 2023.

“In the Boston MSA, the average loan amount decreased from $512,234 to $503,941. Despite this decrease, Boston’s share of national lock volume grew, elevating its rank from the 14th to the 9th largest MSA by lock volume,” O’Connell said. “Notably, the quality of loans in Boston remains higher than the national average. In Boston, average credit scores stand at 739, surpassing the national average of 724, and loan-to-value ratios stand at 75 percent, compared to the national average of 81 percent.”

All of the top 20 metro areas with the biggest mortgage lock volumes saw overall decreases in rate lock volumes month-on-month, including Greater Boston.

Greater Boston Mortgage Refinances Picked Up in December

by Nika Cataldo time to read: 2 min