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Mortgage applications drop as fewer people are able to afford homes


Higher mortgage rates are putting a damper on the housing market. Mortgage applications to buy a home are down by a lot because people just can't afford it right now. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Kim Drotar (ph) lives in St. Louis. And she's a public schoolteacher with a daughter in fifth grade. But she's renting an apartment, and she does not have the best neighbors.

KIM DROTAR: They're 19, 20 and have parties and bang on my door in the middle of the night and, you know, just to be jerks.

ARNOLD: So she's been looking to buy a house.

DROTAR: I just want some place where she can ride her bike and make friends with the neighbors and play with the kids and they can come over.

ARNOLD: But she keeps getting outbid on offers. And now with the Fed raising interest rates to fight inflation, mortgage rates have risen so much that she can only afford a home of around $200,000, which seems pretty impossible to find and buy even in Missouri.

DROTAR: I can't qualify for as much of a mortgage as I could have. And the hope was that that would then lower the prices of houses, but it hasn't. And it's been really discouraging because it's pricing me out of the market fully.

ARNOLD: Many Americans are in the same boat, which is why mortgage applications to buy a house are down more than 20% from a year ago. When you factor in the increase in prices and mortgage rates together, in some places it's gotten nearly twice as expensive to buy the same house compared to just two years ago.

DARYL FAIRWEATHER: Housing is getting less affordable for everyone at every level.

ARNOLD: Daryl Fairweather is the chief economist for Redfin. She says after the last housing crash, we didn't build enough homes for a very long time. And that lack of supply is the biggest force pushing up prices.

FAIRWEATHER: Well, we spent a whole decade under-building. We built fewer homes in the 2010s than any decade going back to the 1960s. So I think it's going to take at least another decade to dig ourselves out of this hole.

ARNOLD: Fairweather says states changing zoning laws to allow for smaller, more affordable homes built closer together, that would help a lot. Meanwhile, continuing to rent a place often is not a great option either.

FAIRWEATHER: I'm not just concerned about homeownership becoming less attainable because rents are going up just as fast as home prices.

ARNOLD: Redfin has a new report out this morning showing that rents are up 15% nationally from a year ago. And the median listed rent for an available place rose above $2,000 a month for the first time. Kim Drotar in St. Louis says her rent is going up, too. So she's still hoping she somehow manages to find a place to buy before too long.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTIGUOS HOP'S "AHORA VAMOS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.

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