Record low mortgage rates were helping to offset the increasing home prices, keeping affordability steady in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI). However, continuing supply shortages could impact affordability in the future.
According to the report, 58.3% of new and existing homes sold between the start of October and end of December were affordable to families who have an adjusted U.S. median income of $72,900—this hasn’t changed since the third quarter of 2020.
“While historically low mortgage rates are helping on the affordability front, there was a significant jump in year-over-year home pricing from 2020 to 2019, as inventory remained lean due to supply chain issues and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke, a custom home builder from Tampa, Florida. “Moreover, lumber prices remain extremely high and builders anticipate that regulatory costs are likely to rise, which will put even more upward pressure on home prices.”
“Looking forward, interest rates are likely to rise as the pace of vaccines increase and economic activity climbs back to more normal levels,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “One trend that will help counterbalance growing affordability concerns is the suburban shift in home sales and construction to smaller markets. An increase in telecommuting is providing more ‘market power’ to prospective buyers, allowing them to live in lower cost, lower density markets.”
But how long can this last with home prices continuing on an upward trend? The HOI showed that the national median home price skyrocketed to an all-time high of $320,000 in Q4. What’s kept homeownership within reach is the low interest rate environment—NAHB reports the average mortgage rate fell by 20 basis points in Q4 to a record-low of 2.85%.
In the fourth quarter, Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan, was the nation’s most affordable major housing market, followed by Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton, Pennsylvania; and St. Louis, Missouri.
The least affordable housing markets were in California: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale; San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine; San Diego-Carlsbad; and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara.