Mortgage rates eased this week, remaining at or near record lows as the spring homebuying season approaches, Freddie Mac said in releasing the results of its weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

While low rates boost affordability, many would-be buyers are still unable — or unwilling — to finance a home purchase.

"Fixed mortgage rates bottomed out in January and February of this year, which is helping spur the housing market," said Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac chief economist, in a statement. Pending sales of existing home rose in January to the strongest pace since April 2010, and sales figures for December saw upward revisions, he noted.

Testifying before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke noted that affordability has "increased dramatically" as a result of the decline in house prices and historically low mortgage rates.

A pickup in construction in the multifamily sector and recent increases in homebuilder sentiment are also encouraging, Bernanke said.

"Unfortunately, many potential buyers lack the down payment and credit history required to qualify for loans; others are reluctant to buy a house now because of concerns about their income, employment prospects, and the future path of home prices," Bernanke said.

"On the supply side of the market, about 30 percent of recent home sales have consisted of foreclosed or distressed properties, and home vacancy rates remain high, putting downward pressure on house prices."

A survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association showed demand for purchase loans was down 4.3 percent compared to a year ago during the week ending Feb. 24. Requests to refinance accounted for 77.9 percent of all mortgage loan applications.

Fannie Mae’s survey showed rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.9 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending March 1, down from 3.95 percent last week and 4.87 percent a year ago. Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages hit a low in records dating to 1971 of 3.87 percent during three consecutive weeks in February.

For 15-year fixed-rate loans, rates averaged 3.17 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from 3.19 percent last week and 4.15 percent a year ago. Rates on 15-year loans hit an all time low in records dating to 1991 of 3.14 percent during the week ending Feb. 2.

Rates on 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans averaged 2.83 percent with an average 0.7 point, up from 2.80 percent last week but down from 3.72 percent a year ago. Last week’s rate was a low in records dating to 2005.

For 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM loans, rates averaged 2.72 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from 2.73 percent last week and 3.23 percent a year ago. That’s a new low in records dating to 1984.

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