Housing Affordability Weakens as Home Prices Rose Faster than Median Family Incomes

At the national level, housing affordability declined in August 2020 compared to a year ago and fell compared to July, according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index. Affordability dipped in August compared to August as the median family income rose by 2.2% while the median home prices rose by 11.7%. The effective 30-year fixed mortgage rate1 fell to 3.00% this August from 3.08% in July. Mortgage rates are at all-time lows compared to a year ago at 3.66%.

As of August 2020, the national and regional indices were all above 100, meaning that a family with the median income had more than the income required to afford a median-priced home. The income required to afford a mortgage, or the qualifying income, is the income needed so that mortgage payments make up no more than 25% of family income. The most affordable region was the Midwest, with an index value of 197.3 (median family income of $79,570 which is almost more than twice the qualifying income of $40,320). The least affordable region remained the West, where the index was 115.5(median family income of $86,744 and the qualifying income of $75,072). For comparison, the index was 167.1 in the South (median family income of $74,666 and the qualifying income of $44,688) and 161.7 in the Northeast (median family income of $92,605 with a qualifying income of $57,264).

While homes are typically affordable, housing affordability2 declined from a year ago in all regions, except in the Midwest where there was no change. The Northeast HAI had a modest decline of 0.1% followed by the South HAI with a dip of 0.8%. The West HAI had the biggest drop of 1.0%.

Affordability is down in all of the four regions from last month. The South HAI had a decline of 1.2% followed by the West HAI with a dip of 1.3%. The Midwest HAI had a decline of 1.7% followed by the Northeast HAI with the biggest drop of 5.8%.

Nationally, mortgage rates were down 66 basis points from one year ago (one percentage point equals 100 basis points). The median sales price for a single-family home sold in August in the US was $315,000 up 11.7% from a year ago, while median family incomes rose 2.2 % in 2020 from one year ago.

Even with lower mortgage rates compared to one year ago, the payment as a percentage of income rose modestly to 15.7% this August from 15.6% from a year ago. Regionally, the West has the highest mortgage payment to income share at 21.6% of income. The Northeast had the second highest share at 15.5% followed by the South with their share at 15.0%. The Midwest had the lowest mortgage payment as a percentage of income at 12.7%. Mortgage payments are not burdensome if they are no more than 25% of income.3

This week the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that for the week ending October 2, mortgage applications increased 4.6 from the week prior. Inventory levels are extremely low so more housing supply is needed to help tame price growth. New home sales are on the rise. Consumers can still take advantage of borrowing while rates are historically low.

What does housing affordability look like in your market? View the full data release.

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


1 Starting in May 2019, FHFA discontinued the release of several mortgage rates and only published an adjustable-rate mortgage called PMMS+ based on Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey. With these changes, NAR discontinued the release of the HAI Composite Index (based on 30-year fixed-rate and ARM) and starting in May 2019 only releases the HAI based on a 30-year mortgage. NAR calculates the 30-year effective fixed rate based on Freddie Mac’s 30-year fixed mortgage contract rate, 30-year fixed mortgage points and fees, and a median loan value based on the NAR median price and a 20% down payment.

2 A Home Affordability Index (HAI) value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. An index of 120 signifies that a family earning the median income has 20 percent more than the level of income needed pay the mortgage on a median-priced home, assuming a 20% down payment so that the monthly payment and interest will not exceed 25% of this level of income (qualifying income).

3 Total housing costs that include mortgage payment, property taxes, maintenance, insurance, utilities are not considered burdensome if they account for no more than 30% of income.


Source: Realtor Magazine

Author: Michael Hyman

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