The cheapest money in nearly 40 years is now available, but few are taking advantage of it.
Call it the credit conundrum.
The pipeline of eligible mortgage borrowers, locally and nationally, is showing signs of drying up.
"Conceivably, there are a lot of good buying opportunities right now, but there's uncertainty and risk and a lot of reasons why people aren't jumping in," said College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner, who called the current interest rates "a lifetime opportunity."
Mortgage rates slipped to historic lows this week, nudging potential home buyers to lock in at rock-bottom rates and giving homeowners who haven't refinanced yet another shot at cutting their monthly payments.
The average national rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 4.69 percent, the lowest point since financing giant Freddie Mac began tracking the figure in 1971. Local mortgage offices were offering rates that range from 4.375 percent to 4.625 for a 30-year fixed conventional mortgage.
Hefner said the fallout from the recession is partly to blame for the lackluster response to the cheap money. He said some would-be homebuyers who are worried about losing their jobs are hesitant about jumping into the housing market right now.
Also, Hefner added, home-owners who owe more than their properties are worth don't qualify for refinancing.
Rates are down thanks to supply and demand. Investors are steering their money away from the shaky stock market and toward safer government-backed Treasury bonds.
At the same time, fewer refinancings and home purchases are creating a larger pool of money that can be loaned out. That pushes interest rates down.
In a week when customers lined up before dawn to buy the latest iPhone device, it was the opposite case at local mortgage offices, according to brokers. Phones didn't ring off the hook, and no one rushed in frantically with signing papers in hand.
Mortgage experts said buyers are taking a breather.
Ric Campeau, branch manager for PrimeLending Mortgage in North Charleston, said his firm is undergoing a quiet period following a rush of business from customers who cashed in on federal tax credits worth up to $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for some existing homeowners. Those incentives expired April 30.
It's now a matter of waiting for the housing market momentum to build up again, he said.
"It's just like 'Cash for Clunkers,' " Campeau said, referring to the government program that offered up to $4,500 to car buyers who traded in gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient models. "I expected nothing to happen for the first few months after April."
Also, many existing homeowners refinanced a year ago, when rates began to plummet. The previous record low for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was set in December when it averaged 4.71 percent, according to The Associated Press.
Bobby Green of Isle of Palms-based Ikon Financial Group said not many people buy homes based purely on mortgage rates.
"They do it based on their economic ability, and then they shop around for the best rate," Green said,
The record-low rates are making deals slightly sweeter for the few buyers who are in the market for a home, such as retired teacher Lorna King.
Even before rates went so low, King said she wanted to upgrade from the small North Charleston townhouse she purchased after moving from New York about five years ago.
As she toured homes in the Tanner Plantation neighborhood in Hanahan on Thursday, she said she might be able to afford a slightly bigger place because of the more favorable loan terms.
Green summed up the benefits: "It's enabling them to buy more house than they could, and it's getting people excited to buy if they can."
Reach Katy Stech at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5549.