When you hear affordable cities, there are four that should be familiar to you now: Cincinnati, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Omaha.
But here’s a list of U.S. cities that are rapidly becoming less affordable: Cincinnati, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Omaha.
In other words, the secret is out. The good news is, many of these places are still affordable — for now. The bad news is that time might be running out.
Data crunchers at RealtyTrac have supplied Credit.com with information on housing affordability for a couple of years now. People exhausted by the rat race in high-cost places like New York and San Francisco are moving to middle-of-the-county havens like Kansas City, where wages and housing prices are more in sync, as we’ve explored in our True Cost of Living series. It turns out that combination of strong employment and reasonable housing costs make places like Pittsburgh both attractive and financially sensible.
As much as we’d like to claim no one else has made this discovery, plenty of folks are onto the idea. We noticed last year that rental prices in places like Pittsburgh (not to mention Portland) are spiking. Now RealtyTrac data shows that affordability is fast moving in the opposite direction in many of these now-popular places.
RealtyTrac developed its own affordability index, which takes into account factors like median wages, median home prices and property taxes. This data shows that Boone County, Kentucky — near Cincinnati — is 47% less affordable this year than last year, making it the U.S. county with the fastest trajectory toward unaffordability. That’s right. Boone County — not Manhattan.
“The trend is toward less affordability, and with interest rates so low there is really no other policy lever that can be pulled to make homes more affordable. At this point either home prices need to flat line or drop, or wages need to jump, to change the trajectory toward less affordable,” Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, said.
Here are a few other places you might not expect to see crack the “top 25” list for areas racing toward being unaffordable, and how much less affordable they are this year compared to last.
- Peoria, Ill. — Tazewell County (31%)
- Richmond, Va. — Henrico County (29%)
- Omaha, Neb. — Douglas County (29%)
- St. Louis, Mo. — St. Louis City County (22%)
- Charlotte, N.C. — Rowan County (20%)
- Pittsburgh, Pa. — Washington County (19%)
- Minneapolis, Minn. — Ramsey County (16%)
- Toledo, Ohio (16%)
- Des Moines, Iowa (14%)
“There are certainly some on this list that might be thought of as affordable compared to other markets, but compared to their own historical standard of affordability they are becoming less affordable,” Blomquist said.
How Long Before These Areas Become Unaffordable?
The news isn’t all bad. Many of these cities will still sound affordable to outsiders. In Polk County, Iowa (Des Moines), the median home sale price in the first quarter this year was $145,000, and that only eats up 22% of median wages. That’s good. On the other hand, median home sale prices were up 8% in the past year, while wages went up only 3%. So how long will Des Moines remain affordable for homeowners? That’s hard to say.
That same mathematics is repeating itself around the country. In Virginia’s Henrico Country (Richmond), prices rose 27%. In Douglas County, Nebraska (Omaha), they are up 38%. In Hamilton County, Ohio (Cincinnati), they’re up 33%.
There are other places to find better news, if you know where to look. In some cities, adjoining counties are becoming more affordable while their neighbors are feeling the squeeze. Pittsburgh-area Butler County is 14% more affordable, the data suggests, thanks to housing prices and mortgage interest rates taking a dip. That’s also true in Union County, N.C., near Charlotte, where things are 14% more affordable. But even here, the data is tricky to understand. Historically, residents in Union County needed to spend 40% of their wages to buy a home, and now that’s dipped to 33% — still a high number.
Overall, more American markets are trending toward unaffordability, RealtyTrac finds. Nationwide, in the first quarter of 2016, the average wage earner needed to spend 30.2% of their monthly wages to make mortgage payments on a median-priced home ($199,000), up from 26.4% of average wages last year. And median home price growth outpaced wage growth in more than 60% of counties.
The share of counties not affordable by their own historic standards jumped from 2% of all counties a year ago to 9% of all counties in the first quarter of 2016. Compare that to 2007-2008, when more than 80% of markets were less affordable than historic norms.
“While the vast majority of housing markets are still affordable by their own historic standards, home prices are floating out of reach for average wage earners in a growing number of U.S. housing markets,” Blomquist said. “The recent drop in interest rates has helped to soften the blow of high-flying price appreciation in some markets, but the affordability equation could change quickly if interest rates trend higher and home prices continue to rise faster than wages.”
If you’re considering buying a home, whether in one of the these locations or somewhere else, it’s important to check your credit score first. Doing so can help you have a better understanding of what rates and mortgage plans you may qualify for as well as how much house you can afford. (You can check your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.)
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