Report: Median home prices unaffordable for three-quarters of average wage earners

Median priced homes were not considered affordable for about three out of four average wage earners in the United States, according to a recent analysis by the real estate data company ATTOM Data Solutions.

In its U.S. Home Affordability Report for the third quarter of 2019, the company analyzed 498 counties across the nation. Median home prices were not affordable for the average worker in 371 of these counties, or 74 percent.

Affordability was calculated based on the assumption of a 3 percent down payment and a maximum front-end debt-to-income ratio—or the share of gross monthly income going toward housing expenses, including mortgage payments, property taxes, and insurance—of 28 percent. Average wages were based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Buying a home continues to be a rough road to navigate for the average wage earner in the United States," said Todd Teta, chief product officer at ATTOM Data Solutions. "Prices are going up substantially faster than earnings in 2019 without any immediate end in sight, which continues to make homeownership difficult or impossible for a majority of single-income households and even for many families with two incomes. If there is any silver lining to the picture, it's that mortgage rates have fallen back to historic lows. That's softening the blow of rising prices and actually making homeownership a bit more attainable in most areas of the country."

The five most populous counties where median prices were considered unaffordable included Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County in California; Cook County in the Chicago metro area of Illinois; and Maricopa County in the Phoenix metro area in Arizona.

Home price appreciation was growing faster than wage growth in 76 percent of the markets in the report. In just over two-thirds of all analyzed counties—67 percent—an average wage earner would need to contribute at least 30 percent of their income toward a home purchase.

Among the counties considered affordable for the average worker, the most populous ones included Harris County in the Houston metro area of Texas, Wayne County in the Detroit metro area of Michigan, Cuyahoga County in the Cleveland metro area of Ohio, and Philadelphia County and Allegheny County in Pennsylvania.

In New London County, ATTOM Data Solutions determined that the median home sales price was $225,090 while the average worker earned $55,601 a year. The report determined that 33.2 percent of the average income would need to go toward housing expenses on a median priced home.

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