Average US rate on 30-year mortgage little changed at 3.7 pct.; 15-year rate at 2.98 pct.

WASHINGTON – Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates barely moved this week, remaining close to historically low levels as the spring home-buying season gets underway.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage ticked up to 3.70 per cent from 3.69 per cent last week.

The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, edged up to 2.98 per cent from 2.97 per cent last week.

A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.41 per cent and the 15-year mortgage rate was 3.47 per cent. Mortgage rates have remained low even though the Federal Reserve in October ended its monthly bond purchases, designed to hold down long-term rates. The Fed signalled recently that it’s still not ready to start raising short-term rates, after keeping them near zero for over six years.

More Americans signed contracts to buy homes in February, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday, providing evidence that the buying season could open strong after sluggish sales for much of the winter.

The trend also was reflected in applications for mortgages, which rose 9.5 per cent in the week ended March 20 from a week earlier, as reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association last week. Refinance applications jumped 12 per cent.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country at the beginning of each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 per cent of the loan amount.

The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was 0.6 point, unchanged from last week. The fee for a 15-year mortgage also remained at 0.6 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage stayed at 2.92 per cent. The fee rose to 0.5 point from 0.4 point.

For a one-year ARM, the average rate was unchanged at 2.46 per cent. The fee remained at 0.4 point.