Mortgage rates are hovering near historic lows, but that doesn't seem to be enough to get new buyers into homes.

Since the spring, mortgage interest rates have been at or near their lowest levels in decades, following the decline of Treasury securities.

Last week, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said rates for a 30-year fixed loan fell to an average 4.32 percent - the lowest point since the firm began tracking rates in 1971. The firm will release its next weekly report on Thursday.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which also tracks rates and loan activity, said on Wednesday the latest numbers show a slight increase in rates for 30- and 15-year fixed rate mortgages nationwide.

The 30-year rate rose to 4.5 percent, up slightly from 4.43 percent last week, according to the association. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, a common refinancing option, increased to 4 percent from 3.88 percent.

Meanwhile, mortgage applications fell 1.5 percent from a week earlier, including the first drop in six weeks for refinance applications.

"These are 50-year historic lows," said Joseph Culver, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Northeast New York.

Culver said the regional rates are on par with the national rates, although the ratio of refinancing to purchases is different.

Refinance loans make up about 70 or 75 percent of mortgages in Northeastern New York, while the breakdown is closer to 82 percent nationwide - neither of which represents a favorable range, he said.

"The negative thing about that from a market perspective is that the purchase market is still stagnant," Culver said. "The low rates are not causing a huge demand for new homeowners."

Looking forward, Culver said he believes regional mortgage activity will pick up a bit in the fall, and that interest rates could go even lower.

With the expiration of the federal first-time homebuyer tax credit, the real estate industry is hoping the low rates will entice buyers to pull the trigger. Earlier this week, New York State Association of Realtors CEO Duncan MacKenzie said the rates are a "strong second act" to the expired

federal tax credit.

So far, though, they haven't been enough to spur buying.

Since the expiration of the federal tax credit - buyers had to sign a contract by April 30 to qualify - demand for mortgages to purchase a home has dropped.

"(The credit is) over; it's done," Culver said.

At Glens Falls National Bank and Trust Co., demand has increased for refinance loans, while new purchase mortgages have slowed since the spring.

Six months ago, the refinance-purchase balance was 50/50; now it's closer to 75/25, said Thomas Hoy, president and CEO of Glens Falls National.

"Rates are not an issue as far as people making decisions to buy homes now," he said. "It's affordability and confidence - people are concerned about the economy and their job."

That's not to say refinance loans have none of the broader economic benefits of home purchases.

Hoy said refinancing can get homeowners into shorter loan terms, lower interest rates and lower monthly payments, which helps an individual's balance sheet.

"That's good in the long term because it means they will have more capacity to spend in the future - when they get confidence to do that," Hoy said.

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