Housing Affordability Steady in Q4

Washington, DC, February 9, 2021-Record-low mortgage rates offset record-high home prices to keep housing affordability steady in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI). Though affordability rates held firm, regulatory and supply-side challenges threaten to aggravate affordability problems in the year ahead.

In all, 58.3% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of October and end of December were affordable to families earning an adjusted U.S. median income of $72,900. This is unchanged from the 58.3 homes sold in the third quarter of 2020 that were affordable to median-income earners and the lowest reading since the fourth quarter of 2018.

“While historically low mortgage rates are helping on the affordability front, there was a significant jump in year-over-year home pricing from 2020 to 2019, as inventory remained lean due to supply chain issues and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NAHB chairman Chuck Fowke, a custom home builder from Tampa, Florida. “Moreover, lumber prices remain extremely high and builders anticipate that regulatory costs are likely to rise, which will put even more upward pressure on home prices.”

“Looking forward, interest rates are likely to rise as the pace of vaccines increase and economic activity climbs back to more normal levels,” said NAHB chief economist Robert Dietz. “One trend that will help counterbalance growing affordability concerns is the suburban shift in home sales and construction to smaller markets. An increase in telecommuting is providing more ‘market power’ to prospective buyers, allowing them to live in lower cost, lower density markets.”

The HOI shows that the national median home price jumped to an all-time high of $320,000 in the fourth quarter, surpassing the previous record-high of $313,000 set in the third quarter. Meanwhile, average mortgage rates fell by 20 basis points in the fourth quarter to a record-low of 2.85% from the previous all-time low of 3.05% in the third quarter.