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Rate falls to 3.54% for 30-year mortgage

– Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages crept closer to their historic lows low week, a trend that could help the housing recovery strengthen.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan edged down to 3.54 percent from 3.57 percent the previous week. That’s near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage declined to 2.74 percent from 2.76 percent a week earlier. The record low of 2.63 percent also was reached in November.

Low mortgage rates have contributed to a housing rebound more than six years after the bubble burst. Home sales and construction are up, prices are rising and more Americans are refinancing. That’s helped the broader economy.

Sales of previously owned homes in February reached the highest level in more than three years. Some of the demand has come from investors. Sales to first-time homebuyers remain below healthy levels.

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.

There also is concern that the limited number of available homes for sale could slow sales at the start of the spring buying season.

The low supply and increased sales have helped drive prices higher. Home prices rose 10.2 percent in February compared with a year earlier, according to real estate data provider CoreLogic.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates.

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