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Refinancing declines in early 2014 despite great mortgage rates

After years of a robust mortgage refinance market, fewer homeowners are swapping their old loans for new ones.

That's the conclusion from mortgage data collected by Ellie Mae, a Pleasanton, California-based company that provides residential mortgage technology for banks, credit unions and mortgage lenders.

Purchase loans move higher

In a statement, Ellie Mae President Jonathan Corr said 63 percent of all closed loans in Ellie Mae's April survey were to purchase a home. A year earlier, refinance loans made up 58 percent of the total.

"This was the highest percentage of purchase loans we've seen since we began reporting data in August 2011 and two percentage points higher than the previous high of 61 percent in October 2013," Corr said.

‘Days to close’ shrinks

That said, mortgage lenders closed refinance loans more quickly in April, taking just 37 days, while purchase loans took 40. Collectively, the days to close averaged 39 days, the first dip to fewer than 40 days in the history of Ellie Mae's data.

The report covers only aggregated data and doesn't disclose information about specific borrowers or their loans, the company said.

FHFA: Refinancing drops

Separately, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reported a similar decline in mortgage refinance activity for the first three months of 2014.

The FHFA reported approximately 370,000 loans were refinanced during the quarter, of which some 77,000 were through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP).

Refinance opportunities still exist!

The FHFA estimates that 750,000 homeowners can still qualify for HARP and take advantage of historically low mortgage rates to help lower their monthly payments. (See current mortgage rates.) The government has begun a more targeted outreach effort to reach eligible borrowers. If you think you could refinance, either through HARP or a private program offered by your lender, use our mortgage calculator to crunch the numbers. Are you curious about how to finance your refinance? If so, be sure to utilize our Tri-Refi Refinance Calculator.

The first quarter of 2014 was the fourth straight in which total refinances and HARP refinances declined, the FHFA said in a statement. Total refinance volume in March alone had not been as low since 2008.

Refinances for the last five years totaled more than 19 million, of which 3.1 million were through HARP, the FHFA said.

HARP still open

HARP enables borrowers who owe more than their home is worth to refinance if they meet the program requirements. One requirement is that the borrower's loan must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Another is that the loan must have been originated on or before May 31, 2009.

HARP expires on Dec. 31, 2015.

More help from HSH.com

  • 12 ways to get the lowest mortgage refinance rates

    To get the lowest mortgage refinance rates, first prepare your finances and then shop for interest rates with certain strategies in mind. Here are 12 ways to ensure you lock in the lowest refinance rate possible.
  • What does a refinance cost?

    There’s no such thing as a free refinance. Just as with a purchase mortgage, you will have to pay closing costs when refinancing your home loan.
  • How to refinance your mortgage

    The first step in your refinance is to make sure you have organized all the paperwork and documentation needed to support your refinance application.
  • I've got an FHA mortgage but poor credit. Can I refinance?

    The good news is that you should be eligible for an FHA streamline refinance. HUD requires no credit check and no appraisal is required on the property being refinanced, and depending on how old your loan is, the lender may not even require income or employment verification.
  • How to refinance a VA mortgage loan

    VA refinances are often easy to obtain, so see if one is right for you.

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