A man holds a pen over mortgage application forms.
A man holds a pen over mortgage application forms. - 
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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: More people are applying for mortgages than at anytime in the past three months. That's according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. We hear that tidbit of good news on this day that Democrats are vowing to stop Republicans from de-funding federal programs that help troubled mortgage holders. Those programs haven't helped near the number intended. This afternoon there's even a Senate hearing on the state of the housing market as a whole.

And Marketplace's Gregory Warner is with us live this morning to talk about it.

GREGORY WARNER: Good morning Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: So people are applying for more mortgages, or refinancing, what's that saying?

WARNER: It has a lot to do with mortgage rates. If you're thinking about buying a house, you want the lowest mortgage rate. But you also don't want to buy too soon before the housing market is bottomed. So last month, mortgage rates ticked up a bit just over 5 percent, partly because of the economy improved so down they're down below 5 percent for the second straight week. Actually at 4.9 this week, so some buyers are thinking, "Hey, now is the time to jump in and sign on the dotted line and buy a house."

CHIOTAKIS: So if people are starting to dip their toes in -- is that good news for the housing market?

WARNER: It is. Some say it's the only good news. There's still a lot of excess housing stock and home prices in many markets are still declining.

I called Susan Wachter. She's a professor at the Wharton School in Philadelphia. She's testifying at today's Senate hearing on the state of the housing market. I actually reached her on the Amtrak heading down to D.C. Her talk is called, "Housing Recovery Question Mark."

SUSAN WACHTER: The question is whether that decline gathers force. If people expect housing prices to decline, they will stay on the sidelines, they will not purchase, and without demand housing prices will decline.

And that she says is really the definition of a very fragile market.

CHIOTAKIS: All right. Marketplace's Gregory Warner, with us live this morning. Gregory thanks.

WARNER: Thanks Steve.