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US Housing Affordability Remains at a Record Low, NAR Says

(Bloomberg) -- US housing affordability remained a record low in July as high mortgage rates and prices kept home ownership out of reach for many Americans.

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The National Association of Realtors housing affordability index was unchanged at 87.8 in July, matching the lowest level in data back to 1989. A level of 100 means a family with the median income has enough income to qualify for a mortgage at the median home price.

The typical family spent 28.5% of their income on the principal and interest of their mortgage payment each month, also matching an all-time high, according to the report released Friday. Qualifying income for a mortgage, based on a 20% down payment, was a record $104,496 in July.

“Higher mortgage rates continued to harm affordability despite modestly lower median home prices,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in an email. “Consequently, the Federal Reserve is unintentionally widening the social divide by preventing middle-income renters from ownership opportunities.”

Buying conditions have deteriorated swiftly over the last year as borrowing costs climbed and a shortage of available homes kept asking prices elevated. Mortgage rates are now near their highest level since 2000 and many homeowners who locked in at much cheaper rates are reluctant to sell.

The lack of inventory has, in turn, driven up home prices, and allowed the housing market to recoup the nearly $3 trillion in value wiped out last year.

Read more: US Housing Affordability Hits Worst Point in Nearly Four Decades

The deepening affordability challenge is compounded by the toll of high inflation on household budgets. While the inflation rate is moderating, the cost of rent, groceries and other necessities is much higher it was just a couple years ago. By in large, Americans’ incomes haven’t been able to keep pace.

By region, affordability increased in the Midwest and Northeast. It dropped to a record low in the West and South.

Looking ahead, it’s not clear when things will improve for potential buyers. Fed policymakers have signaled their intention to keep interest rates elevated for an extended period of time to tame inflation. Should borrowing costs decline, the pent-up demand for homes risks keeping prices high.

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