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Interest rates lure buyers

Historically low interest rates are having a lukewarm effect on home buyers.

Mike Bruner, a broker at Town & Country Real Estate of Selma LLC, said low interest rates and home prices do not matter if people cannot acquire loans.

“It’s still real hard to get money,” Bruner said. “I’ve had one lender tell me if you didn’t have a 725 credit score, don’t even call him.”

Bruner said December was a slow month for the company, but January has been strong so far. He predicts mortgage companies will be more willing to lend money in the coming months, which will lead to more sales.

Karen Sullivan, senior vice president of BankTrust’s real estate division, said mortgage applications and inquiries have spiked since early December when rates dropped below 5 percent.

“It was actually what we term a little ‘knee jerk’ and rates really bumping down one day,” she said.

While interest rates rose slightly as the month went on, Sullivan said rates still hover just above 5 percent.

Compared to this time last year, Sullivan said mortgage applications at the bank have risen 50 percent, and refinancing applications have risen 70 percent.

“Last year rates were a good point and a half higher,” Sullivan said. “I would say we’ve seen an increase in volume.”

Andy Stewart, president of Wachovia bank in Selma, hopes people will be more inclined to purchase a new house with lower interest rates.

“Mortgage applications have risen since 30- and 15-year rates have fallen below 5 percent,” Stewart said. “Hopefully, it’ll get folks buying homes.”

According to Fannie Mae, 2009 looks like a promising year.

The mortgage giant released an economic forecast projecting interests rates would drop even more this year, while more people are expected to take on and refinance mortgages.

However, the report projected the unemployment rate to continue to rise across the nation. Stewart said that is why the housing market might not pick up.

“People are still concerned about their employment,” he said.

Sullivan said there are always people playing wait and see. They are hesitant to lock down their interest rate, no matter how much it falls.

“I think that’s always true in any market,” she said.