Mortgage Payments Haven’t Been This Unaffordable Since 2008

WALL STREET JOURNAL:

Record growth in home prices has made owning a home less affordable than at any point since the financial crisis.

The median American household would need 32.1% of its income to cover mortgage payments on a median-priced home, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. That is the most since November 2008, when the same outlays would eat up 34.2% of income.

Supercharged home prices in markets across the country are canceling out the impact of modestly higher incomes and historically low interest rates, two factors that typically make owning a home more affordable. Prices rose at a record pace for the fourth consecutive month in July, driven by a shortage of houses for sale. Higher prices require buyers to take out larger loans, essentially signing them up to make larger mortgage payments each month for years.

The Atlanta Fed calculates affordability using a three-month average of median home prices from CoreLogic Inc. and median household incomes based on census data. In July, the latest month in the Atlanta Fed’s calculations, median home prices were $342,350, up 23% from the year before. Median incomes were $67,031, up 3%.

Declining affordability will have the biggest impact on buyers shopping for their first homes, who will have to sign up for larger monthly payments, buy less desirable homes or step back from the market altogether, economists said.

“It’s a lot more difficult for people to get their foot in the door of the housing market,” said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Haus, a home-finance startup. “The question is whether it is an insurmountable hurdle or is it just that these households have to spend more of their monthly income on the mortgage.”

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