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Mortgage rates tick up to 3.57%

– Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages edged up last week but remained near historic lows. Low rates have helped drive the housing market’s steady recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate for 30-year fixed loans rose to 3.57 percent from 3.54 percent two weeks ago. That’s near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on 15-year fixed mortgages increased last week to 2.76 percent from 2.72 percent two weeks ago. The record low of 2.63 percent was also reached in November.

The lowest mortgage rates in decades are spurring more home purchases and refinancing. That’s helped the broader economy. Increased sales are also pushing home prices higher.

In February, sales of previously occupied homes rose to a seasonally adjusted pace of 4.98 million, the fastest in more than three years. And U.S. home prices rose 8.1 percent in January, the fastest annual rate since the peak of the housing boom in the summer of 2006.

Fewer people signed contracts to buy homes in February. But the level stayed near a three-year high, leading many analysts to predict resales will keep rising in coming months. There’s normally a one- to two-month delay between a signed contract and a completed sale.

One concern is the limited number of available homes for sale. That could slow sales at the start of the spring-buying season.

And some people are unable to take advantage of the low mortgage rates, either because they can’t qualify for stricter lending rules or they lack the money for larger down payment requirements.

First-time homebuyers made up 30 percent of existing home sales in February, well below the 40 percent that is typical in a healthy market.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country Monday through Wednesday each week.

The average rate does not include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for 30-year mortgages was unchanged at 0.8 point. The fee for 15-year loans also was steady, at 0.7 point.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage slipped to 2.62 percent from 2.63 percent two weeks ago. The fee for one-year adjustable-rate loans edged down to 0.3 from 0.4 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage rose to 2.68 percent from 2.61 percent. The fee held at 0.6 point.

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