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Rising home prices and increasing interest rates have combined to make homeownership less affordable than ever, a new report from RealtyTrac shows.

According to the firm's analysis, the estimated monthly house payment for a median-priced, three-bedroom home purchased in the fourth quarter of 2013 - including mortgage, insurance, taxes, maintenance and subtracting the estimated income tax benefit - increased an average of 21% compared to the fourth quarter of 2012.

The report is based on median sales price data derived from public sales deeds for arms-length transactions in 325 markets in the fourth quarter of 2013 and fourth quarter of 2012. Also factored into the report is fair market rent data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2013 and 2014.

The report also assumes a 20% down payment, a 30-year fixed interest rate of 4.46% for homes purchased in the fourth quarter of 2013 and a 3.35% 30-year fixed interest rate for homes purchased in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Based on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with an interest rate of 4.46% and a 20% down payment, the average monthly house payment across all counties for a three-bedroom home purchased in the fourth quarter of 2013 was $865 - up from $714 in the fourth quarter of 2012 - based on a 3.35% interest rate a year ago.

The disparity between income and median monthly mortgage payment grew even wider during the fourth quarter – however, it was more pronounced in certain markets. For example, in the greater Los Angeles area, one now needs to earn $95,000 per year in order to qualify for a mortgage for a median-priced three-bedroom home with a 20% down payment.

Driving the increased cost of owning a home is an average 10% rise in median prices and a 33% increase in the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, according to the report.

"A potent combination of rapidly rising home prices and the often-overlooked but significant uptick in interest rates in the second half of 2013 caused the monthly cost of owning a home using traditional financing to jump substantially in many markets over the last year," says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, in a release. "The monthly cost of owning a home is still less than renting in the majority of markets, but the cost of financed homeownership is becoming dangerously disconnected with still-stagnant median incomes, driven not by shoddy underwriting practices this time around but by investors and other cash buyers who are not tethered to the typical affordability constraints.

"One simply needs to look at the minimum income needed to qualify for a median-priced home in some markets to realize the extent of the disconnect between prices and incomes," Blomquist says. "For example, in Los Angeles County, the minimum qualifying income needed to purchase a median-priced home is at more than $95,000, up from about $68,000 just a year ago."

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new ability-to-repay/qualified mortgage rules - which make it harder for some borrowers to qualify for mortgages - are compounding the problem of affordability, according to the report. The new rules “restrict people from purchasing their dream home,” says Sheldon Detrick, CEO of Prudential Detrick/Alliance Realty covering the Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., markets.

Despite the increased cost of owning a home, owning is still more favorable, economically speaking, than renting (and probably always will be), according to the report. The analysis shows that the estimated monthly house payment for a median-priced three-bedroom home in the fourth quarter of 2013 was lower than average fair market rent for a three-bedroom home - set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2014 - in 296 of the 325 markets tracked. Still, in 29 of the counties tracked, the average monthly mortgage payment exceeded the average fair market rent for a comparable property.

Counties with some of the biggest increases in estimated monthly house payments included Contra Costa and Sacramento counties in California (both up more than 50%); Wayne and Oakland counties in Michigan (both up more than 45%); and Clark County, Nev. (up 43%). 

Across all 325 counties, the average minimum household income needed to qualify for a median-priced home in the fourth quarter of 2013 was $41,544, up from an average minimum income of $34,262 in the fourth quarter of 2012. The minimum qualifying income was based on no more than 25% of household income going to the monthly house payment. 

Counties with the highest minimum qualifying incomes were San Francisco County, Calif. ($228,569); Marin County, Calif., ($177,922); San Mateo County, Calif. ($170,284); Arlington County, Va. ($158,474); Santa Clara County, Calif. ($149,389); and Hudson County, N.J. ($142,684). 

The average minimum qualifying income to rent a three-bedroom home at fair market rents for 2014 was $43,892 across all 325 counties, up from $43,527 at fair market rents for 2013. The minimum qualifying income for rents was calculated by multiplying the annual cost of rent by three. 

Counties with the biggest jumps in fair market rents on three-bedroom homes included Sumter County, S.C. (up 23%); Kenosha County, Wis. (up 21%); Alameda County, Calif. (up 16%); Contra Costa County, Calif. (up 16%); and Missoula County, Mont. (up 15%).

The NAR's report is in contrast with a report released last week from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) showing that housing affordability "held steady" during the fourth quarter, compared to the third quarter.

According to the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index, median home prices dipped slightly in the fourth quarter while interest rates rose only slightly. (However it should be noted that the NAHB report compares fourth quarter data to the third quarter and does not provide a year-over-year analysis.)

The NAHB’s data shows that 64.7% 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 $64,400. This is virtually the same as the 64.5% of homes sold that were affordable to median-income earners in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, the national median home price dipped from $211,000 in the third quarter to $205,000 in the fourth quarter, while average mortgage interest rates rose from 4.45 percent to 4.54 percent in the same period.

"Housing affordability is stabilizing at a time when pent-up demand and ongoing job growth are helping housing markets across the nation to gradually strengthen," says Kevin Kelly, chairman of the NAHB, in a statement. "While this bodes well for housing in 2014, builders continue to face challenges, including tight credit for home buyers, inaccurate appraisals, and a shortage of workers and buildable lots."


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