In a new age of low-cost borrowing, average 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates dipped below 4 percent in November 2011 and have not turned back.

Last week, they averaged 3.43 percent — near the 65-year record low, according to government-owned mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

This makes financing a home purchase significantly less costly than three years ago, when April 2010 rates averaged 5.1 percent.

The annual difference in payments on a $200,000 mortgage is about $2,300, according to Bankrate.com’s Mortgage Calculator.

But where are rates headed?

“I think there’s a pretty wide acceptance that rates are not going to get any lower and ultimately are going to start to inch up as we get to the second half of the year and into 2014,” said Anthony D’Alicandro, owner of Coldwell Banker Casa Bella Realtors in Linwood. “Because of that cost of money, you have opportunistic situations with housing affordability, and that’s the key ingredient to strong buyer demand we’re experiencing now.”

Eventually, rates will rise, when the Federal Reserve eases policies that have lowered interest rates to spur the economy and promote borrowing and investing.

In a statement Thursday, Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft said last week’s rates dropped to 3.43 percent from 3.54 percent the week prior following a lackluster March jobs report and tepid personal income growth.

The Fed has said it will keep rates low until national unemployment drops to 6.5 percent, something it recently forecast to happen in 2015.

“For the past three years, we’ve seen reducing prices and interest rates going lower,” said Carol Menz, broker and owner at Coastline Realty in Cape May.

The last time the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was above 5 percent was April 2010. It was last at 6 percent in November 2008.

By comparison, average 30-year fixed-mortgage rates ranged from 6.94 percent to 10.13 percent throughout the 1990s.

Jim Malamut, a loan originator with Annie Mac Home Mortgage in Pleasantville, said low rates make home buying more affordable and mean people can qualify for a larger payment with lower interest rates than with higher ones.

“Right now, we’re busier than we’ve been in the last few years. We’ve seen a large increase in purchase activity in the past three months in our office,” he said. “I think it’s the combination of people knowing the rates are near record lows and there’s a lot of talk about the rates rising at some point, but they don’t know when. And they want to get into the market now, when the rates have plummeted.”

D’Alicandro said the low rates of today will have to increase eventually.

He expects rates may rise above 4 percent by the year’s end and approach 5 percent by the end of 2014.

Even at that figure, D’Alicandro said, he does not expect a significant hit to the real estate market.

“I don’t think (5 percent) would be catastrophic to our market at all, because I believe the values are so low it’s not going to impact affordability negatively too much,” D’Alicandro said. “Obviously, it’s more money, so it won’t be great (news), but it won’t damage the momentum in the market.”

Contact Brian Ianieri:

609-272-7253