Ongoing declines in mortgage interest rates helped spur a pickup in refinance volumes at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in August, even as interest in the government's Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) continues to wane.
According to a report released this week by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) total refinance volumes at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac came to 131,075 in August, up more than 11,000 from July as mortgage rates slipped slightly to an average 4.12 percent.
FHFA described August's refinance volume as "comparable to levels in 2008."
While overall refinancing activity increased, however, the number of refinances completed through HARP fell again to a combined 14,066—accounting for about 11 percent of total volume compared to July's 13 percent.
Year-to-date, HARP refinances at the GSEs totaled 160,706 as of the end of August, a meager total compared to the 721,813 HARP refinances recorded by this time last year. Despite the hundreds of thousands of Americans still eligible for the program, interest in HARP has steadily fallen off in the last year, prompting FHFA to launch an outreach initiative to educate borrowers on its benefits. So far this year, the agency has hosted events in Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit in an effort to tap into those markets.
Speaking at the Chicago event in July, FHFA Director Mel Watt said HARP numbers are down partly because hold-out borrowers are skeptical about the program.
"We are down to the people who don't believe this is a credible program," Watt said. "We've got approximately $72 million that we'd like to give away in this metropolitan area. People won't come in and say, 'I want that money.'"
Despite declining volumes, a handful of states continue to see a large portion of HARP refinances as a share of total activity. Year-to-date through August, HARP refinances represented 34 percent of total refinances in Georgia, double the national share of 17 percent. HARP refinances are also popular in Florida, where they account for 32 percent of total volume.