Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Latest Housing Affordability Index

The recent Existing Home Sales release published showed a 5th consecutive month of home prices higher than a year ago. What does this mean for affordability? The answer may surprise you.

The July Existing Home Sales release published in late August showed a strong rise in home prices from a year ago - 9.4 percent for the median priced existing home sold. This news is reassuring for owners who can expect the wealth they have accumulated in their property to maintain or increase, but at first glance this seems to be troubling news for potential buyers who have not purchased a home yet. Have they missed the best time to buy?

The Housing Affordability Index offers some reassurance for these would-be buyers. As it turns out, the Housing Affordability Index suggests that the national median priced home was actually slightly more affordable for the median income family in July 2012 than it was in July 2011 even though home prices are up.

How is this possible? While prices are up compared to one year ago, mortgage rates are nearly a percentage point lower and incomes are up, though only modestly. Since the Housing Affordability Index factors in the effect of house prices AND income and mortgage rates, it is the case that nationally, the median priced home is slightly more affordable to the median income family than it was a year ago. At 182.0 compared to 178.0, the Housing Affordability Index shows that the median income family earns 82 percent more than the income needed to qualify to purchase the typical home that was sold in July. Regionally, affordability is improved over one year ago in every area except the West where the more than 20 percent year-over-year price gain offset increased income and the benefit of lower mortgage rates. Still, even in the West, the median income family earns at least 40 percent more than is needed to qualify to purchase the median priced existing home. Check out the data release here.

The Housing Affordability Index calculation assumes a 20 percent down payment and a 25 percent qualifying ratio (principle and interest payment to income). See further details on the methodology and assumptions behind the calculation here.

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