Mortgage applications fell 4.9% last week from the week before, but purchase only applications eked out a 0.2% gain on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday.

The MBA's Market Composite Index was down 5.3% on an unadjusted basis; the unadjusted reading on the Purchase Index also was down by 2.1% from a week earlier and down 13.5% from the comparable week last year. The Refinance Index decreased 6.3% from the previous week.

"Heading into the Labor Day weekend, the 30-year rate was at its second lowest level in the history of our survey (the low point was reached last October), and the 15-year rate marked a new low in our survey," said Mike Fratantoni, MBA's vp/research and economics. "Despite these rates however, refinance application volume fell for the third straight week, and is more than 35% below levels at this time last year. Purchase application volume remains relatively flat at extremely low levels, close to lows last seen in 1996."

The four week moving average for the seasonally adjusted Market Index was down 3.2%, down 3.7% for the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index and down 3.1% for the Refinance Index. Refinancings decreased to 77.1% of total applications from 77.8% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage(ARM) share of activity stood at 7.1%.

The average rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 4.23% from 4.32%, with points decreasing to 1.04 from 1.29. The average rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 3.41% from 3.49%, with points decreasing to 0.94 from 1.00, the lowest 15-year rate recorded since the survey was created in January 1990.

In a note to investors, David Goldberg, home building analyst at UBS, saw little to cheer in the report. "Over the past four weeks, the [purchase] index has dipped below the range bound level it had been at for most of this year. We believe this reflects the impact of: 1) tighter underwriting standards, which is reducing the pool of potential buyers; and 2) weak buyer confidence around home prices."