Housing has been reaching record affordability, but in a recent Freddie Mac Perspectives Blog, VP Chief Economist Sean Becketti proposed the question: why doesn’t it feel that way? Apparently, it’s due to three reasons.
The National Association of Realtors produces what Becketti would consider the most widely cited measure of housing affordability, the Housing Affordability Index (HAI). According to the index, median-income families have more than enough income to qualify for a mortgage to buy a median-price house. However, Becketti said the reason that doesn’t feel like a correct statement is because, to start off with, houses are expensive.
House prices have risen 6 to 7 percent per year since the house price trough in 2012, leaving them higher now than they were in 2006 at the pre-crisis peak. Yet, most American’s income hasn’t increased with the rise in home costs. In fact, they’ve only increased an average 2.4 percent year-over-year in the same time frame.
Secondly, the limited supply of housing has created an illusion that homes aren’t affordable. Buyers, including many paying cash, are quickly putting offers in as soon as homes go on the market and are commonly going into bidding wars. This is causing some homeowners to hold off on putting their home on the market.
“The imbalance between the demand for and the supply of homes boosts house prices further and can transform the perception of unaffordability into actual unaffordability,” Becketti said.
Finally, according to Becketti, borrowers aren’t sure if they can qualify for a mortgage. Though the HAI is a good tool, it doesn’t tell the whole story. It tells whether a median-income family will be able to comfortably cover a monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home, but not whether they have too much outstanding debt, if their credit score is high enough—if they even have a credit score, if they can document a stable income, or if they have enough money for a down payment.
“It's easy to see why homeownership feels unaffordable to so many people,” Becketti said, “But the HAI isn't kidding—mortgage payments are more affordable today than at almost any time in history.”