Housing MarketReal Estate

Median income earners can only afford 25% of current listings

A new report finds that even with existing inventory levels, the housing shortage would not be so severe if there were enough homes for all income levels

It is no secret that housing inventory is low. As of June 2, there were 433,104 single family homes on the market nationwide, according to data from Altos Research.

And while this situation is certainly far from ideal, according to a report published Thursday by the National Association of Realtors and Realtor.com, even with the existing level of homes available for sale, the housing affordability and inventory shortage issues wouldn’t be so severe if there were enough homes for buyers at all income levels.

In April 2023, data from NAR and Realtor.com showed there were roughly 1.1 million homes listed for sale. Of those 1.1 million properties, 25% had a price lower than $256,000, which is the maximum price of a home that households earning the national median income of $75,000 can afford.

Over half (51%) of U.S. households earn $75,000 or less, meaning that in a balanced market, 51% of the homes for sale would be affordable to buyers in this income bracket.

Based on the report, the housing market needs an additional 319,460 listings priced under $256,000 in order for the market to be balanced. In other words, the U.S. needs to add at least two homes that are affordable for middle-income buyers (up to $256,000) for every home that is listed above $680,000.

As income levels increase, however, the disparity decreases between current inventory and the inventory needed for a balanced market. For example, buyers earning $250,000 can currently afford to buy 85% of listings compared to 93% in a balanced market.

This situation has only gotten worse over the past five years. In April 2018, there were about 810,000 listings that middle-income buyers were able to afford, just 150,000 listings shy of a balanced market.

El Paso, Texas; Boise City, Idaho; Spokane, Washington; Cape Coral, Florida; and Lakeland, Florida round out the top five metropolitan areas with the larges supply shortage of homes with a price lower than $260,000. In El Paso, buyers earning $75,000 can afford to buy 16% of listing, when in a balanced market they should be able to buy 66% of listings. In Boise City, they can afford just 2% of listings when a balanced market calls for them to be able to afford 50% of listings.

On the other side of the spectrum, in the Youngstown, Ohio-Pennsylvania market, buyers earning $75,000 can afford to buy 72% of listings, when a balanced market calls for this cohort to be able to afford 66% of listings.

Akron, Ohio (where 61% of listings are affordable and 58% are needed for balance); Toledo, Ohio (where 61% of listings are affordable and 60% are needed for balance); Cleveland, Ohio (where 59% of listings are affordable and 58% are needed for balance); and Syracuse, New York (where 54% of listings are affordable and 55% are needed for balance) round out the top five.

When parsed by race and ethnic groups, NAR and Realtor.com found that Black Americans are the group that is furthest away from equilibrium out of any cohort. Two-thirds of Black Americans earn $75,000 or less, and these buyers can only afford 22% of homes for sale.

Meanwhile, 48% of white Americans fall into the same income bracket, and they can also afford to buy 22% of listings. This means that Black Americans would need 20% more listings with a value of up to $256,000 than white Americans in order to be at equilibrium.

By comparison, Hispanic Americans need roughly 11% more homes listed for sale than what white Americans need to reach equilibrium. When broken out by metro area, McAllen and El Paso in Texas; Oxnard and Riverside in California; and Tucson, Arizona are the areas with the smallest housing affordability and availability inequalities among white and Black households earning less than $75,000. The report attributes this to these areas being expensive for all racial/ethnic groups

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