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The Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest Weekly Application Survey shows a 0.3% seasonally adjusted decline in loan application volume from the previous week. The Refinance index decreased by 1% from the previous week and was 225% higher than it was the same week one year ago. The Purchase Index increased 2% from one week earlier but was 31% lower than it was the same time a year ago. The MBA notes that the pandemic-related economic stoppage has caused some buyers and sellers to delay their decisions until there are signs of a turnaround. This has resulted in reduced buyer traffic, less inventory, and March existing-homes sales falling to their slowest annual pace in nearly a year. Most importantly, the economic stoppage has halted the momentum in the housing market generated by young, would-be homebuyers, mostly from the millennial generation, preventing them from entering the market.

With the federal government’s recent passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, not only did qualifying individuals receive economic impact payments, i.e., stimulus checks, but small businesses were also extended emergency advances of up to $10,000 as part of the Small Business Administration’s economic injury grant. With these measures in place, expanding businesses and families’ balance sheets to accommodate for more real estate is less of a priority than keeping their existing assets afloat. The CARES act also provides options for mortgage forbearance.

As can be seen from the above figure, year-over-year gains in refinancing skyrocketed in the middle of March and continued their upward trajectory towards the end of the second week of April. Year-over-year purchasing changes, however, slipped into negative territory for that period, posting a year-over-year decline of 31% in the latest week. The National Association of Realtors cites that lender credit standards such as higher down payments and credit scores would likely deter home sales’ bounce when the pandemic is over. Before the outbreak, foreclosure rates were at historic lows.