The Nation’s Most—and Least—Affordable Real Estate Markets

Less than half of the homes sold are affordable for America’s middle class.

According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index, only 48.7% of homes sold could be characterized as being within the financial reach of middle-class families. That number is likely to be even lower today, as it was calculated using home prices from the first quarter of the year and mortgage rates from late April. Both have since risen, and mortgage rates are expected to continue rising.

“Housing affordability is going to be an issue in this country for the foreseeable future because we expect mortgage rates to keep going up,” he says Pink Quint, Associate Vice President of Survey Research at NAHB. “There will be a lot of buyers, especially first-time homebuyers, who will be pushed out of the market because of the increase in mortgage rates and also the increase in down payments due to home prices rising very quickly.”

Despite the rise in prices, there are still many Americans hoping to become homeowners. Every time mortgage rates rise by as little as a quarter of a percentage point, about 1.3 million households are priced down on their homes, according to the NAHB.

“Some buyers who are doing a little better are waiting for the competition to ease off a bit,” says Quint. “The demand is very strong. There are millions of millennial homebuyers out there who have reached their prime as homeowners.”

To arrive at its results, NAHB assumed that middle-income families had a median income of $90,000 per year and a national median home selling price of $365,000. The group used a mortgage rate of 3.86% for the first quarter of the year, which the cheapest and most affordable metros were based on. (A 5.11% average rate from late April was used to find that less than half of America’s middle class can afford to buy homes.)

Median income data is from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, home selling prices are from data provider CoreLogic, and mortgage rates are from Freddie Mac for 30-year fixed-rate loans.

What are the cheapest housing markets in the country?

Lansing, MI, was the cheapest major housing market for middle-class buyers in the first quarter of 2022, according to the index. According to NAHB, about 92.3% of middle-class locals could afford new and existing homes in the state capital, which is about a 90-minute drive west of Detroit. According to the latest data from Realtor.com®, the average listing price for homes in the metro area in April was approximately $190,000. (Metro systems include the capital and surrounding cities, suburbs, and smaller urban areas.)

Lansing was followed by Indianapolis with an average price of $300,000; Scranton, PA, at $215,000; Rochester, NY at $200,000; and Dayton, OH, at $215,000. These subways all had at least half a million residents.

“They’re not job powerhouses,” Quint says of many of the more affordable places on the list. Many do not have the strong economies of the larger coastal cities. “In places where there are relatively more houses for sale and the population is not growing very quickly, it will be more affordable. There will be less competition.”

The cheapest smaller housing market was Wheeling, WV, about an hour southwest of Pittsburgh, where about 97.3% of middle-class residents could afford a home at an average price of $155,000.

Cumberland, MD, followed with a median home price of $120,000; Elmira, NY, at $100,000; Utica, NY at $185,000; and Davenport, IA, at $142,000.

What are the least affordable housing markets?

By now, all of the most expensive housing markets, big and small, were in California. The Golden State is notoriously expensive, with a national average home price of $750,000.

Los Angeles was the country’s least affordable major housing market, averaging $950,000, as only 8.3% of middle-class residents could afford to own a home. The city has held this dubious title for a year and a half.

Next came Anaheim, part of the Los Angeles Metro, which had an average price of $950,000; San Francisco, at $1,098,000; San Diego at $900,000; and Stockton, California, at $599,000.

(Some even more expensive housing markets didn’t make the top 5 because locals earned higher salaries in those places. This meant they could more easily afford homes in those areas.)

The least affordable smaller housing market in the country was Salinas, California, about 100 miles south of San Francisco, where only 9.2% of residents could afford local house prices. According to Realtor.com, the average listing price for homes there in April was $970,000.

Santa Maria, California followed with $1,450,000; San Luis Obispo, California at $1,000,000; Napa, CA, at $1,695,000; and Santa Cruz, CA, at $1,275,000.

“Housing codes make it very difficult to build a home in California. This reduced supply of housing is driving up prices and hurting housing affordability,” says Quint. “If you have very high population growth and very limited inventory, it’s going to remain very difficult to buy houses.”

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