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Mortgages continue to loosen their tight restrictions while maintaining historically low interest rates. That's very good news for homebuyers and sellers in today's market.

Mortgage credit availability increased in March, according to the Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI), a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association as quoted in an MBA news release. The MCAI increased 2.3 percent to 121.4 in March.

A decline in the MCAI indicates that lending standards are tightening, while increases in the index are indicative of a loosening of credit. The index was benchmarked to 100 in March 2012.

"A number of factors contributed to a loosening of credit in March: Freddie Mac's introduction of their 97 LTV program (Fannie Mae's was implemented in December), additional loosening of parameters on jumbo loan programs, an increase in offerings of cash-out refinance loans, and continued expansion of the FHA streamline refinance and VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan programs," according to Mike Fratantoni, MBA's chief economist.

"As a result of these changes, all four component indexes of the MCAI increased last month: jumbo, conforming, conventional and government. Although credit remains tight by historical standards, this increase in availability, coupled with low rates and job market strength, should lead to stronger home purchase activity this spring."

Questions from readers

Q: Considering the recent stock market gyrations, is it better to invest in real estate?

A: It has always been a roller-coaster ride with the stock market. The dips always bounce back.

However, for long-term investments, I think real estate is the best. If you want a combination of investment advantages, you might check some of the leading Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).

Q: Are applications for mortgages to finance the purchase of new homes rising?

A: Yes. The Mortgage Bankers Association Builder Application Survey for March 2015 shows mortgage applications for new-home purchases increased by 17 percent relative to the previous month.

"Overall, applications for new-home purchases during the first quarter of 2015 increased 20 percent relative to the first quarter of last year. Continued strength in builder applications raises the likelihood that housing starts will be strong over the next few months," said Lynn Fisher, MBA's vice president of research and economics.

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"Although the March employment report showed a smaller net gain in jobs, job openings are up, wages are beginning to increase more robustly, and mortgage rates remain low, all of which contribute to stronger housing markets," Fisher was quoted in a report from the MBA.

Q: Are mortgage applications generally rising?

A: At this point, applications are rising, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association's Mortgage Applications Survey. On April 22, MBA reported a 2.3 increase in applications over the previous week's volume.

Q: Are mortgage rates finally rising?

A: Rates fluctuate, but they remain at historically low levels.

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey, showing average fixed mortgage rates largely unchanged amid a light week of economic releases and remaining near their 2015 lows.

At this writing, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.67 percent with an average 0.7 point. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.27 percent.

Q: How can a person find out about the history of an older home?

A: You can trace expansions and contractions in the economy easily by home sizes and standard features, it was reported in Realty Times.

In the 1950s, suburbs grew quickly because of new highway systems that allowed homeowners to commute to their jobs. Yards grew larger, and homes sprawled on single-story foundations because land was cheap.

Post-war parents gave birth in record numbers to the baby boomers and decorated their homes with space-age Sputnik Formica, luxurious wall-to-wall carpeting, built-in cocktail bars, and furniture-quality black-and-white TV sets, the report noted.

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