A Freddie Mac sign stands outside the headquarters in McLean,...

A Freddie Mac sign stands outside the headquarters in McLean, Virginia, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner will present Congress with three options for reducing the government's role in the nation's housing finance system and shrinking the footprint of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg Credit: Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer

This week was yet another that saw mortgage interest rates falling below year-ago levels, as more news pointed to a soft housing market, mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported Thursday.

The fixed rate for 30-year mortgages averaged 4.5 percent, unchanged from last week but down from 4.69 a year earlier, the report said.

Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft said recent data showed new home construction lagged behind last year’s pace and sales of existing homes last month fell 3.8 percent to the lowest level since November.

Last November, the 30-year fixed rate went to 4.17, the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking it in 1971.

For consumers, the big question is whether the rates will continue falling and perhaps reach last year’s low. Using the $350,000 median closing price for Long Island home sales last month, a 4.5 percent rate would cost $24,466.07 more in interest than a 4.17 percent rate at the end of 30 years.

But don’t expect a rate repeat of last year, said Gregory C. Frank, the Woodbury-based regional manager for GuardHill Financial Corp., a Manhattan-based broker and lender.

“There’s got to be a reason for why the market would come down that low,” Frank said. “If you look back at the reasons why we were there, there was a lot of fear in the market and situations around the globe.”

But on the front lines of lending and buying, Frank said he feels something different now from house hunters, who a year ago had been bargaining on home prices and shopping for rates as long as they could.

“They’re not playing that tough game anymore,” he said. “They’re finding deals and settling. I’m seeing a more relaxed atmosphere.”

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