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The popular 30-year mortgage rates hit a record low, according to a Freddie Mac survey released Thursday, providing a bright spot in the economy by continuing to give consumers more incentive to buy homes.

The average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 2.81% from 2.87% with an average 0.6 point. (A point is a fee borrowers pay, usually 1% of the loan, to get a better rate.) The average rate, the lowest since Freddie Mac began conducting the survey in 1971, is well below the 3.69% level a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average slid to 2.35% from 2.37%, with an average 0.5 point. The five-year adjustable-rate average of 2.90%, with an average 0.2 point, was down from the 2.89% of the previous week. The 15-year rate was 3.15% and the five-year was 3.35% a year ago.

"I'm actually surprised by this good news for buyers that mortgage rates dropped even further this week. I thought we had hit the lowest possible rate before," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

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"Investors are perceiving mortgages as a safe investment, as safe as U.S. bonds," he said. "Investors see little risk in the housing market and in investing in mortgages."

Mortgage rates have been at historically low levels since March, when the Federal Reserve started purchasing mortgage-backed securities -- bundled mortgages sold to investors. The action was meant to provide more credit in the market and has resulted in a drop of three-quarters of a percent since spring. The Fed has said it would keep that policy in place at least until 2023, almost guaranteeing that rates will remain low for the long term.

"Low mortgage rates have become a regular occurrence in the current environment," Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist, said in a statement. "As we hit yet another record low, the tenth record this year, many people are benefiting as refinance activity remains strong. However, it's important to remember that not all people are able to take advantage of low rates given the effects of the pandemic."

For borrowers, the difference in the 30-year fixed-rate this week compared to this same time last year is a savings of as much as $190 per month on a $400,000 loan.

"One negative of these low rates for buyers is that they are contributing to rising home prices," Yun said. "One solution for buyers looking for affordability is to move farther away from the city where they can find lower prices and still benefit from lower rates. That's easier for people who can work from home and don't need to commute."

The averages are generated from Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey, which gauges the rates that about 80 lenders nationwide offer buyers between Monday and Wednesday each week. The survey covers rates on conventional home loans for borrowers who make a 20% down payment and have excellent credit.

Meanwhile, the number of people seeking mortgages dropped slightly last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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