Even as rates rise, March loan lock activity grows

March saw mortgage rate locks grow by 19% month over month, as it appears that homebuyers aren’t quite done racing to beat rising interest rates, according to Black Knight.

Conforming 30-year loan rates peaked at 4.93% and finished at 4.79% during March, per Black Knight’s Optimal Blue Mortgage Market Indices. And yet, Optimal Blue president Scott Happ said that despite the indices recording their fastest one-month rate increase in nearly 13 years, purchase lock volumes increased by 31% from February, “likely as prospective buyers moved to lock in their loans before rates climbed any higher.”

Year over year, rate locks were down 24% but have rebounded somewhat after multiple months of annualized declines above 30%. Purchase mortgage lock volume in March was up 4.3% annually, but the ongoing weakness of the refinance market is driving an overall rate-lock falloff.

Cash-out refinance locks were relatively flat in the short term (up 1.6% monthly in March) and were cool on a year-over-year basis (down 8.1%). Rate-and-term refinance activity, on the other hand, continued a stark slide as a 15.4% reduction from February to March marked the sixth straight monthly decrease for this segment.

Compared to March 2021, rate-and-term refi locks were down a whopping 80.8% as rising rates continue to eat into the pool of refinance candidates. The continued slide of rate-and-term refi locks caused the refinance share of the market to drop to 28%, the lowest level since November 2018.

Meanwhile, already high home prices persist in further gains and are pushing average loan amounts upward.

 “The average loan (amount) rose by $8,000 to just under $362,000 in March, representing a more than 23% increase over February’s rise,” Happ said. “In turn, nonconforming products – including both jumbos and loans with expanded guidelines – continued to take market share from conforming loans and accounted for a full 18% of the month’s lock activity. The FHA share of lock activity also rose on strong purchase lending demand.”


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