Let It Snow: Housing Market Heats Up

Mortgage activity is up hinting at renewed interest in the real estate.

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Home buying usually goes into hibernation in the winter months, but according to a new report, the market might be shaking off December's chill. A new set of house keys under the Christmas tree, anyone?

Mortgage activity, which measures both refinancing and new applications, jumped almost 13 percent last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, as interest rates continued their downward march.

"Coming out of the Thanksgiving holiday, applications increased significantly as mortgage rates dropped to their lowest levels in about two months," Michael Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of research and economics, said in a statement.

[Read: Mortgage Rates Are Falling Again.]

Rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged around 4 percent last week according to a Freddie Mac survey.

Refinancing activity in particular surged sharply, with some lenders seeing the number of applications double, the MBA said. The refinancing bump comes on the heels of the overhaul of the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP as it's commonly called.

Launched December 1, HARP 2.0 is primarily designed to help "underwater" homeowners—an estimated 11 million Americans—who owe more on their home that it's worth. So far, various versions of the program have helped nearly 930,000 Americans refinance their mortgages.

While those types of refi applications still remain a fraction of the overall volume, "some lenders indicated they are beginning to see an increase in HARP loans," Fratantoni said.

[Read: New-and-Improved HARP 2.0 Is Here.]

According to a Federal Housing Finance Agency report, government mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac refinanced nearly 35,000 loans under the HARP program in September, a jump of more than 20 percent over August.

For more information on HARP 2.0 guidelines and to find out if you qualify click here.

Have you refinanced your home through HARP 2.0? What was your experience? Weigh in with a comment below.

mhandley@usnews.com

Twitter: @mmhandley

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