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The Federal Reserve hiked its benchmark lending rate this week for the seventh time this year, capping a year of intense pressure on the housing market that pushed mortgage rates above 7% for the first time since 2002.

But now that the Fed has signaled a softer approach to cooling the economy instead of rolling out bumper rate hikes, potential home buyers are left to wonder: Will mortgage rates come back down? Or have buyers missed their chance?

No one knows exactly where mortgage rates will go in the months ahead. But most experts agree that we have seen the end of 3% mortgages for some time.

Mortgage rates have run up so far and so fast this year that many would-be homebuyers can no longer afford to buy a home. At the end of 2022, when rates were at 3%, few predicted that just a year later rates around this week’s 6.33% would come as a relief, having dropped from over 7%.

After starting the year at an average 3.22%, according to Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage took off last spring as the Federal Reserve embarked on a historic campaign to battle decades-high inflation by raising interest rates. By fall, mortgage rates had more than doubled, eventually topping 7% in October. Rates have receded slightly in recent weeks, but loans are still expensive — especially compared to the historically low rates buyers were getting during the pandemic.

Home shoppers have watched their buying power evaporate, with higher rates adding hundreds of dollars onto what they would pay each month.

High mortgage rates remain the primary impediment to home buying, according to a recent buyer and seller sentiment survey conducted by Fannie Mae. Homebuying and home-selling sentiment are both significantly lower than they were last year.

Based on the survey, people in the real estate market continue to expect mortgage rates to rise but home prices to decline, said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae senior vice president and chief economist.

He said he expects mortgage demand to be dampened by affordability challenges, while “homeowners with significantly lower-than-current mortgage rates may be discouraged from listing their property and potentially taking on a new, much higher mortgage rate.”

Is this the new normal?

While the Fed’s rate hikes are expected to continue, many analysts anticipate they will be smaller than the recent bout of three-quarter-point hikes and will start to taper off as inflation starts to cool, which should mean mortgage rates will likely come down too.

The Fed does not set the interest rates borrowers pay on mortgages directly. But its actions influence them. Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on 10-year US Treasury bonds, which move based on a combination of anticipation about the Fed’s actions, what the Fed actually does and investors’ reactions. When Treasury yields go up, so do mortgage rates; when they go down, mortgage rates tend to follow.