California housing affordability declines as home prices rise

by Alejandro Lazo, Los Angeles Times

California’s post-recession moment for housing affordability appears to be ending fast.

Rising home prices in the San Francisco Bay Area and other coastal markets shut out a big chunk of the state’s home-buying population last quarter, according to data published Monday by the California Assn. of Realtors. Rising mortgage interest rates also didn’t help.

The rise in mortgage costs will probably keep values from skyrocketing, but price appreciation will probably continue, said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the association. That means housing affordability probably won’t improve any time soon.

“It is going to continue to deteriorate, but perhaps at a lower rate,” Appleton-Young said. “I do think you are going to see a cooling off of price appreciation.”

Thirty-six percent of Californians could afford a single-family home at the state’s median price in the second quarter, down from 44% in the first quarter, according to the association’s housing affordability index. The state hit a record high for affordability in the first quarter of 2012, with 56% of home buyers able to buy a median-priced home.

People looking to buy a house needed to earn a minimum of $79,910 a year to qualify for a home at the statewide median price of $415,770 in the second quarter. In the prior quarter, a minimum annual income of $66,800 was needed to qualify for a home at the median home price of $350,490.

Richard Green, director of USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate, said the decline in affordability is just the latest indication of wage stagnation in the U.S. In the post-World War II boom, home prices and wages rose in sync, making homeownership increasingly accessible, but that ended in the 1970s.

“People are not making more money, except at the high end,” Green said. “This gets at the broader problem, which is not a housing problem…. It seems to me the problem is much more of an income one.”

Madera County, in the Central Valley, was the most affordable county in the state, with 71% of home buyers there able to afford a home. San Francisco and San Mateo counties were tied for the least affordable, with only 17% of people able to buy a home in those jurisdictions.

In Los Angeles County, 37% of home buyers were able to afford a median-priced home last quarter. The percentage was considerably lower in Orange County, where just 23% of home buyers were able to afford a home — making it the most expensive jurisdiction in Southern California. San Bernardino County was the most affordable in Southern California, with 69% of home shoppers able to buy a home.

Prices have risen across the state — and the country — this year as demand has outpaced supply. The inventory squeeze may begin to ease a bit, however, as prices rise and homeowners feel more inclined to list their properties while some buyers get priced out.

The real estate website planned to report early Tuesday that in July, inventory dropped 5.2% nationally, but in California markets the large declines in inventory may be ending. The Los Angeles metro area experienced a 6.8% increase in inventory over the year. The area encompassing Riverside and San Bernardino counties had a 26% jump, the biggest percentage increase in the nation, while Sacramento had a 16.7% increase.