There were “virtually” no losers in this year’s Q1 market report among the metropolitan areas tracked by the National Association of Realtors. Only winners…if you’re a seller, anyway. Buyers? Not so much.
Stark Contrast Between Sellers and Buyers
In fact, 99% of the country’s metros recorded year-over-year price gains, with 89% nailing double-digit increases. Only one of the 183 markets covered in NAR’s latest report recorded falling prices: Springfield, Illinois, which saw its median slide by 2.4%.
A corresponding Q1 market report, this one from analytics firm ATTOM Data Solutions, found that 17.8 million residential properties in the country are now considered equity-rich, meaning their owners owe 50% or less on their homes than their estimated market value. This count represents about one in three of the 55.8 million mortgaged homes in the United States. Meanwhile, the number of owners who owe more than 75% of their home’s current value continues to fall; at 6.6% a year ago, it’s down to 4.7% currently.
That’s all good news for sellers. “It continues to be a great time to be a homeowner most everywhere in the country,” said ATTOM’s Todd Teta. But it’s tough on would-be buyers who are continuing to be priced out of the market. “The sudden price appreciation is impacting affordability, especially among first-time home buyers,” said NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun. Nationally, according to the NAR report, the median price of an existing house rose 16.2% in the January-to-March period, to a record-high $319,200.
Metros with the Highest Percentage Price Increases
So what does all this look like on the metro area level? Some of the Q1 market report’s largest percentage increases of price were recorded in the New England region.
Taking the top spot with a 35.5% increase in median price was Kingston, New York, followed by:
- Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut — 34.3%
- Atlantic City, New Jersey — 34%.
- Barnstable Town, Massachusetts — 33.1%
- Elmira, New York — 29.1%
- (tied) Glens Falls, New York and Decatur, Illinois — 27.5%
Of course, higher prices are dependent on the types of house sold, especially in smaller locations. Not all houses saw large price gains in the first quarter, the NAR report stressed.
Because there is a concentration of condominium apartments in high-cost metro areas, for example, the median price for those units are often higher than the median for individual single-family houses. Also, prices reflect the types of homes that are selling during the period and can be skewed at times by changes in the mix. That includes the level of distressed sales, which generally are heavily discounted.
But economist Yun said the run-up in prices is a product of the same song the industry’s been singing for months: strong demand paired with a record-low supply of houses for sale. “The record-high home prices are happening across nearly all markets, big and small, even in those metros that have long been considered off-the-radar in prior years for many home seekers,” he said.
According to NAR’s latest figures, inventory continues to remain at near-historic lows. The unsold inventory of properties listed for sale sits at a 2.1-month supply at the current sales pace. That’s down from 3.3 months in March 2020. For context, six months’ worth of supply is considered “normal.”
“With low inventory already impacting the market, skyrocketing costs have left many families facing the reality of being priced out entirely,” Yun said. And the situation “underscores the importance” of stepping up new home construction as well converting abandoned retail and hotels into housing. Both, he said, “would combat the affordability problem.”
What About Mortgages?
Often, buyers are more concerned with what a house will cost on a monthly basis than the overall price. But, the higher median price drove the average national monthly mortgage payment for principal and interest from $995 a year ago to $1,067 at the end of March. That’s a $72-a-month jump, even though the effective rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 2.93% in Q1.
In eight markets, a family needed to earn more than $100,000 to afford a 30-year mortgage with 20% down. And in one – San Jose, California – an annual income of nearly $243,000 was necessary.
Mortgage payments are considered affordable if they amount to no more than 25% of the buyer’s median income. NAR’s report found that with 20% down on a 30-year loan, the average family with a median income of $90,547 spent 14.1% of that income on its mortgage.
That’s down slightly from 14.5% a year ago. But how many families are making $90K in the not-quite-post-COVID market? Most first-time buyers don’t have the savings to put down 20%. Buyers with that much money to put down are mostly those who are cashing in on their gains made by selling and moving to another residence. And there are other housing-related expenses, too: homeowners insurance, property taxes and mortgage insurance if your down payment is less than 20%.
Long story short — first-time buyers putting down less than 20% (spoiler alert: many of them) are at a distinct disadvantage in this market.
Q1’s Most Expensive Markets
Let’s get down to brass tacks: according to NAR’s report, these are nation’s most expensive housing markets and their year-over-year price increase percentages as of April 1:
- San Jose, California ($1.5 million, up 11.1%)
- San Francisco, California ($1.2 million, up 21.8%)
- Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, California ($1 million, up 14.3%)
- Urban Honolulu, Hawaii ($940,400, up 19.2%)
- San Diego, California ($763,500, up 14%)
- Boulder, Colorado ($726,600, up 16.7%)
- Los Angeles, California ($682,400, up 15.1%)
- Seattle-Tacoma, Washington ($653,400, up 17.9%)
- Naples, Florida ($599,500, up 24.9%)
- Nassau County-Suffolk County, New York ($598,600, up 22.7%).
At least for now, it seems the West Coast isn’t the friendliest place for first-time or budget buyers. Will it ease up in those areas anytime soon?
Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.