Home affordability returned to pre-bubble levels in a growing number of U.S. markets over the past year as price declines laid the groundwork for a housing recovery.
Home values in the United States posted their largest quarterly decline since the first quarter of 2009, falling 2.6 percent as the temporary stimulus of the home buyer tax credits wore off, according to Zillow.com. See region-specific data.
Data provided by Moody’s Analytics track the ratio of median home prices to annual household incomes in 74 markets. By that measure, housing affordability at the end of September had returned to or surpassed the average reached between 1989-2003 in 47 of those markets. Most economists believe the housing boom took off in 2003.
During the boom, lax lending and speculation pushed house-price inflation far beyond the modest rise in household income. Nationally, the ratio of home prices to annual household income reached a peak of 2.3 in late 2005. But by last September, it had fallen to 1.6, matching the lowest level in the 35 years the data have been collected and well below the historical average of 1.9 between 1989 and 2003.
“Based on incomes, this is as affordable as it gets,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “If you can get a loan, these are pretty good times to buy.”
But the bad news is that those price declines are leaving more borrowers underwater, or in homes worth less than the amount owed.
Nearly 27% of homeowners with a mortgage were underwater at the end of the fourth quarter, up from 23.2% in the previous quarter, according to data to be published Wednesday by Zillow.com, a real-estate website.
The increase resulted from a 2.6% decline in home values during the quarter and the fact that fewer homes went through foreclosure after banks halted foreclosures to correct document-handling errors.
Many economists and housing analysts expect an additional decline of 5% to 10% before prices reach bottom later this year or early next year. Housing demand remains weak because buyers are skittish about the economy and lending standards are tight…
Read more of this article at the Wall Street Journal.