Mortgage applications for purchase -- a gauge of future home buying -- increased 8.1 percent last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports. The purchase index on an unadjusted basis now stands at 41.9 percent higher than last year, signaling more people taking out loans to buy homes. More home owners are also taking advantage of low interest rates. Refinance activity last week also increased, inching up 3.3 percent from a week earlier. Overall, mortgage applications were up 4.5 percent last week.

For the fifth consecutive week, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have averaged at historical lows below 4 percent, Freddie Mac reported last week. For the week ending Jan. 5, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.91 percent, with an average 0.8 point, matching the previous record low set a few weeks ago.

HousingWire (Jan. 11, 2012)