Mortgage rates in the US declined, helping to ease affordability challenges for homebuyers.

The average for a 30-year, fixed loan was 6.79%, down from 6.87% last week, Freddie Mac said in a statement Thursday.

Borrowing costs haven’t breached 7% since early December, but they’re still about double where they were in early 2022, before the Federal Reserve started aggressively raising its benchmark rate. The central bank has signaled its first rate reduction is likely to come this year, but the timing remains dependent on inflation and jobs data.

Elevated mortgage rates along with rising prices have cut into purchasing power for house hunters, but more owners have been listing their properties for sale, offering hope that the market will eventually gain steady momentum.

Contracts to buy previously owned homes climbed 1.6% in February from the previous month on a nationwide basis, but fell in the high-cost areas of the Northeast and West, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday. Last week, the Realtors group reported that closed sales of existing homes surged to the fastest pace in a year in February.

“Mortgage rates moved slightly lower this week, providing a bit more room in the budgets of some prospective homebuyers,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in the statement. “We also are seeing encouraging data on existing-home sales, which reflects improving inventory. Regardless, rates remain elevated near 7% as markets watch for signs of cooling inflation, hoping that rates will come down further.”

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.