Homeownership remains affordable despite price increases

by Liz Hughes

Rising wages and falling mortgage rates are helping keep homeownership within reach of average wage earners nationwide despite surges in housing prices, according to a recent report.

ATTOM Data Solutions’ first-quarter 2021 U.S. Home Affordability Report found the median prices of single-family homes and condos to be more affordable today than historical averages in 52% of counties analyzed, down from 63% in the first three months of 2020.

The median home prices in 287 of the 552 counties the company analyzed were more affordable than past averages, down from 349 in the year-ago period. Nationwide, the expense of purchasing a median-priced home consumed 23.7% of the average wage in the first quarter of 2021, up from 22% in the first quarter of 2020 and 19.7% five years ago. This puts it in line with the 28% standard lenders prefer for homeowners to spend, according to the report.

Inventory continues to be tight, as homes are still selling well above asking price — factors the report found did not outweigh the benefits of increased wages and low mortgage rates.

“The past year certainly has been an odd one for the U.S. housing market. Home prices surged at a remarkable pace even as the virus pandemic damaged the U.S. economy, which dropped historical affordability levels,” ATTOM Chief Product Officer Todd Teta said in a press release. “But average workers untarnished by the pandemic were still able to afford the typical home because wages and rock-bottom interest rates worked to their favor in a big way.”

Teta added that uncertainties about the 2021 housing market depend on how well the U.S. economy recovers.

In six of every 10 markets, less than 28% of wages were needed to buy a home, according to the report. Illinois’ Macon County was one of the counties requiring the smallest percentage, at 9.9%.

The report also found home-price appreciation outpaced average weekly wage growth in 86% of the counties analyzed, including Chicago’s Cook County. Cook was also included among counties of at least 1 million that were more affordable than their historic averages.

Chicago’s Cook County was among the largest of the 552 counties in the report where homeownership expenses were affordable for average wage earners.

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