Mortgage rates are starting off 2019 at very good levels. In fact, mortgage rates declined, starting the new year with the 30-year fixed rate mortgage dipping to 4.5 percent last week from 5 percent a month ago, according to mortgage finance provider Freddie Mac. After a year of gradual increases, mortgage rates are declining. Stock market volatility, global trade worries and the government shutdown are pushing rates down to their lowest levels since August.
But how do mortgage rates affect homebuyers? Fixed-rate mortgages are amortized over the life of the loan. That means that at the beginning of the loan term, most of the mortgage payment goes toward paying off interest. Over time, a larger percentage of the monthly payment is applied to the loan’s principal balance. Thus, when interest rates are low, homeownership is more affordable. If less is spent on interest, homebuyers may be able to afford a larger loan. However, higher rates increase the long-term cost of owning a house.
NAR calculated the monthly payment based on the mortgage rate in the first week of January (4.5 percent) and the rate (5.0 percent) that was previously expected. Nationwide, it is estimated that the monthly payment at 4.5 percent rate is $1,208, while a higher rate of 5.0 percent increases the monthly payments by $72 to $1,280.
The effect of the mortgage rates varies from location to location. In high-end areas, homebuyers are expected to benefit more from lower rates than homebuyers in other areas. For instance, in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA metro area, comparing the monthly payment at 4.5 percent and 5 percent rates, homebuyers pay $353 less every month for their payment at a 4.5 percent rate. However, at the low-end areas, in Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA, the monthly payment at 4.5 percent rate is $26 less compared to the payment at 5 percent rate.
The visualization below allows you to see how much the monthly payment changes at 4.5 and 5.0 percent rates for 178 metro areas:
We also calculated the monthly mortgage payment for 3,119 counties and county-equivalents in the United States. Please visit the following web page to see the monthly mortgage payment at the county level.
Thus, homebuyers can still benefit from lower rates. Although the average rate on the 30-year fixed rate sat just below 4 percent for a year in 2016, homebuyers should bear in mind that, back in 1982, the rate was over 17 percent for more than a year. Moreover, historically, the average mortgage rate is 8 percent. Therefore, rates are still historically low. Looking ahead, NAR is forecasting the 30-year fixed rate mortgage to average 4.9 percent for 2019 and 5.2 percent for 2020, respectively.
See below how the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has been trending since 1971:
 Primary Mortgage Market Survey, Freddie Mac.
 Between 1971 and 2019.