Mortgage applications eked out the slightest of gains as interest rates barely budged from a week ago, according to the latest survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Total applications increased 0.1 percent from a week ago but are nearly 18 percent above year ago levels. 

Refinance applications were the driver, increasing 3 percent from the previous week to the highest level since May, 2015. 

"As rates declined over the past few weeks, refinance activity picked up in terms of share and volume in the most recent week's data.The refi share, at 53 percent, was the highest refi share since April and the refi index increased 3.1 percent to reach its highest level since May," said Lynn Fisher, the MBA's vice president of research and economics.

Purchase applications decreased 4 percent from the prior week, but are 20 percent higher than a year ago.

Interest rates for the popular 30-year fixed rate mortgages were unchanged at 4.13 percent for loans for $417,000 or less, known as conforming and stayed at 4.08 percent for jumbo loans (greater than $417,000). 

Mortgage lenders say clients are watching rates closely as the Federal Reserve has clearly signals it will move rates higher as the economy improves. Tolbert Rowe, VP with Bay Capital Mortgage in Easton,Maryland, says there's a question if the Fed talk has already been priced into mortgage rates, "I've been telling my clients that it's an event, how it impacts rates, if at all, I'll let you know after it happens."