With consumers still bullish on their prospects and mortgage rates low, home sales and mortgage volumes have been astonishingly strong in 1997.

"It's been a remarkable year for housing activity," said David Lereah, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association. The trade group estimates home loans will exceed $800 billion this year. Only in 1992 and 1993 - the peak years of the refinance boom - did Americans take out more home loans.

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