Looking back, the housing industry is totally Scrooged

Looking back, the housing industry is totally Scrooged

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1 in 3 homes is unaffordable and a bubble is forming

Zillow study shows drastic housing affordability gap

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More than half the homes currently on the market in seven major American metros are currently unaffordable for local residents, and one-third of homes for sale are unaffordable by historic standards.

That’s the conclusion from a Zillow (Z) analysis of income, mortgage and home value data in the fourth quarter of 2013, which puts to question the regular industry claim that housing is more affordable than ever because of the current price and interest rate levels coming out of the housing crash.

“As affordability worsens, we’re already beginning to see more of the kinds of worrisome trends we saw en masse during the years leading up to the housing crash. These include a greater reliance on non-traditional home financing, smaller down payments and a greater pressure to move further away from urban job centers in order to find affordable housing options,” said Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries. “We’re not in a bubble yet, but we’re beginning to see the early signs of one in some areas.”

Homebuyers increasingly have to search on the perimeter of the country’s largest metro markets, as downtown properties become out of reach for buyers of typical means, the report found.

Zillow calculated affordability by analyzing the current percentage of an area’s median income needed to afford the monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home, and comparing it to the share of income needed to afford a median-priced home in the pre-bubble years between 1985 and 2000.

Zillow analysts took that data and if the share of monthly income currently needed to afford the median-priced home is greater than it was during the pre-bubble years, the home was marked as unaffordable.

More than half of homes currently listed for sale in Miami (62.4%), Los Angeles (57.2%), San Diego (55.3%), San Francisco (55.2%), Denver (52.8%), San Jose (50.9%) and Portland, Ore. (50.3%) are unaffordable by historical standards.

Nationally, Zillow found that one-third of homes are currently unaffordable, and in many metro areas, the majority of homes remain more affordable now than they have been historically for buyers making the area’s median income.

But as mortgage interest rates rise along with home values, affordability will worsen, and buyers will need to spend ever-larger shares of their incomes to buy increasingly expensive homes.

Home buyers making the median income in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose should already expect to pay a larger share of their income today toward a mortgage than during the pre-bubble years.

Zillow expects mortgage rates on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage to reach or exceed 5% by the first quarter of 2015. Assuming rates at that level and another year of forecasted home value growth, home buyers in San Diego; Riverside, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento; and Miami will also soon be paying a larger share of their incomes to their mortgage than they were during the pre-bubble years.

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