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Home Affordability: The Tale of Two Coasts

For all the ink spent keeping tabs how the lack of housing inventory affects affordability, it turns out that affordability hasn't gone anywhere.

Based on the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index, released Thursday, housing affordability remained essentially flat throughout all four quarters in 2017.

According to the index, 60 percent of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of October and end of December were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $68,000. That's effectively the same rate as in Q3 and compared to a year earlier.

Coupled with steady affordability, the national median home price fell $5,000 to $255,000 in Q4, the report stated. Meanwhile, average mortgage rates moved from 4.1 percent to 4.06 percent.

The Youngstown region and Syracuse tied as the most affordable major housing markets in the U.S. during the last quarter. In both metros, 88 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $54,600 and $68,000, respectively.

The Cumberland region, where Maryland meets West Virginia, was the most affordable smaller market. Nearly every home sold in the fourth quarter—97—were affordable to families earning the median income of $53,900.

On the flipside of affordability and the country, Los Angeles was the least affordable market. Just above 6 percent of the homes sold in Q4 were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $113,100.

NAHB Chairman Randy Noel said that while builder confidence and consumer demand remain strong, buyers will likely enter the marketplace this year.

“At the same time,” he said, “builders are working hard to keep home prices affordable as they continue to grapple with persistent labor and lot shortages, burdensome regulations and rising costs for building materials. Another factor that could have a negative effect on housing affordability in the first quarter is a recent rise in mortgage interest rates.”

NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz said that ongoing job and economic growth are boosting housing demand—as are tight inventories and rising household formations are boosting housing demand. Dietz also said the new tax laws will have a dampening effect on home prices.

“While it will further boost economic activity,” he said, “the new tax law is expected to contribute to price softness in some high-cost, high-tax markets now that deductions for income and property taxes are capped at $10,000 per year.”

Meanwhile, NAHB has reduced its home price forecast this year to 2.9 percent as a result of the recently enacted tax reform legislation.

About Author: Scott Morgan

Scott Morgan is a multi-award-winning journalist and editor based out of Texas. During his 11 years as a newspaper journalist, he wrote more than 4,000 published pieces. He's been recognized for his work since 2001, and his creative writing continues to win acclaim from readers and fellow writers alike. He is also a creative writing teacher and the author of several books, from short fiction to written works about writing.
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