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Housing Affordability Improved in August With Best Homebuying Months Still Ahead

After bottoming out in June, the Housing Affordability Index improved in July and August. See what that means for homebuyers.

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The affordability of existing single family homes may be trending in the right direction for homebuyers.

After hitting a one-year low in June, the Housing Affordability Index improved in both July and August, according to data from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

The affordability index measures the ability of a family earning the median income to buy a median priced existing single-family home in a given area. A value of 100 means the median income is exactly enough to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. Values above 100 indicate that the median income is more than enough to buy a median-priced home.

After bottoming out at 146.5 in June, the nationwide index rose to 150.6 in July and 151.3 in August -- a good sign for homebuyers since higher index scores represent more affordable homes. Whether this is trend or mirage remains to be seen, although October is typically the best month for homebuyers.

housing affordability vs single family home prices

What housing affordability means to homebuyers

While home prices soared to record-highs in 2021, home affordability also takes into account mortgage interest rates and median family income.

In 2021, low interest rates and elevated median family income have allowed homebuyers to keep up with rising prices. In fact, the average home affordability index from January to August is actually higher than two of the past three years.

Metric 2018 2019 2020 2021 (January-August)
Median Priced Existing Single Family Home$261,600$274,600$300,200$344,762
Mortgage Rate*4.72%4.04%3.17%2.97%
Median Family Income$76,401$80,808$84,969$88,775
Payment as a % of Income17.1%15.7%14.6%15.5%
Home Affordability Index146.3159.7171.0162.4
*Effective rate on loans closed on existing homes from the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Even with the median price for existing single-family homes more than $80,000 above 2018 levels, the typical home is more affordable in 2021 because median family income is higher and mortgage rates are significantly lower.

In August, the Midwest was the most affordable region by a significant margin. The home affordability index for the Midwest was 196.8 compared to 160.6 in the South, 149.1 in the Northeast, and 114.9 in the West.

The principal and interest payment on a median-priced home is just 12.7% of the median family income in the Midwest, compared to 21.8% in the West.

While record home prices may give homebuyers sticker shock, the typical home is actually more affordable now than it was in 2018. And we homebuyers still have the best months for purchase value ahead.

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