There can simply be no question that mortgage rates remaining at near to historical lows has had a profound effect on the current very buoyant homes market, with buyers extremely keen to lock in ultra-low percentages.
It's therefore perfectly understandable that sellers and buyers are always concerned about when rates will finally and inevitably begin to move away from around or lower than an average of 4% for a 30 year mortgage, for instance.
Quite a lot of press coverage is currently doing the rounds, suggesting that the Federal Reserve's meeting on December 15th and 16th will finally herald the introduction of higher interest rates, with the knock-on effect of raising mortgage rates at the same time.
This speculation has, to some extent, been reinforced by comments from within the Fed, and financial commentators, that December does indeed look like the moment when the economic recovery will have finally reached a point where it feels comfortable in raising interest rates.
Indeed, if one were to take some of the press coverage at face value it would seem reasonable to treat it all as absolute confirmation that December will be that long-awaited watershed month for rates.
In truth, of course, we were in almost exactly the same situation approaching the Fed's meeting in mid-September. But rates remained unchanged, as the Fed still harbored concerns about the health of financial markets both at home and abroad.
It would probably be fair to say that, if economic conditions look the same in mid-December as they have recently, the likelihood is that the Fed will pull the trigger on an interest rate hike. However, we have seen this same speculation many times in the past couple of years and yet nothing has changed. This is either because something negative has happened with the US economy or there have been changes in the ever volatile international scene, or a mixture of the two.
The big question is can both these factors remain stable for another month? After small gains in recent weeks, mortgage rates have ended lower this week due to a shortfall in retail sales data and growing expectations of new financial stimulus measures in Europe - essentially nothing is for certain.
Last week the Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen said that although the US economy seemed to be performing well, no decision on rates had yet been reached, so it's clear that there is still plenty of room for nothing to change.
We're still just over a month away from the Fed meeting, so our advice to sellers remains to stay on the market over the holiday period, as buyers will be keen to secure the home they want in advance of the Fed decision. It's always a mistake to withdraw from the market at this time of year, anyway, but the incentives to keep on listing this year have clear extra significance.
And what if the rise finally happens?
Resulting mortgage rate rises will be gradual and still not certain to continue to rise, depending on other economic factors and the consequent attractiveness to investors of buying mortgage-backed securities.
A decision to raise rates by the Fed will rightly be seen as a big endorsement of the health of our economy and progressively more people will be able to buy a first home or move upscale. In many respects, we're all in a win-win situation.
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