According to the National Association of Home Builders / Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) released this week, modest U.S. home price and interest rate decreases resulted in a slight increase in nationwide housing affordability in the fourth quarter of 2015.
"Affordable home prices, attractive mortgage rates, and pent-up demand are keeping the housing market on a gradual, upward path," said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady, a home builder and developer from Bloomington, Ill. "While this bodes well for housing in 2016, builders continue to face a number of challenges, including excessive and costly regulations and a lack of available lots and skilled labor."
"The signs point to continuing growth in home sales," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "We've seen an improvement in affordability due to favorable home prices and interest rates. Steady employment and economic growth, along with rising consumer confidence and pent-up demand will also help encourage more buyers to enter the marketplace."
In all, 63.3 percent of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of October and end of December were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $65,800. This up from the 62.2 percent of homes sold that were affordable to median-income earners in the third quarter.
The national median home price fell from $231,000 in the third quarter to $226,000 in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, average mortgage rates edged lower from 4.18 percent to 4.09 percent in the same period.
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa. was rated the nation's most affordable major housing market, switching places with Syracuse, N.Y., which fell to the second slot on the list. In Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, 90.1 percent of all new and existing homes sold in last year's fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the area's median income of $53,700.
Rounding out the top five affordable major housing markets in respective order were Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Toledo, Ohio; and Columbia, S.C.
Meanwhile, Binghamton, N.Y., claimed the title of most affordable small housing market in the fourth quarter of 2015. There, 94.6 percent of homes sold during the fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the area's median income of $66,400.
Smaller markets joining Binghamton at the top of the list included Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Sandusky, Ohio; and Monroe, Mich.
For the 13th consecutive quarter, San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif., was the nation's least affordable major housing market. There, just 10.4 percent of homes sold in the fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the area's median income of $103,400.
Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were located in California. In descending order, they included Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale; Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara; and Santa Rosa-Petaluma.
All five least affordable small housing markets were also in California. At the very bottom of the affordability chart was Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif., where 16.3 percent of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the area's median income of $87,000. Other small markets at the lowest end of the affordability scale included Salinas; Napa, San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles; and Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, respectively.