The percentage of households in California able to afford a median-priced home dropped to 21 percent in March, a 7 percentage-point decrease compared to the same period a year ago, according to a report released today by the California Association of Realtors.

The March Housing Affordability Index declined three points compared to February, when it stood at 24 points.

The minimum household income needed to purchase a median-priced home at $428,280 in California in March was $97,340, based on a typical 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 5.48 percent and assuming a 20 percent down payment. This was up 18.6 percent from the $82,080 minimum household income needed to purchase a median-priced home in March of last year, when the median price of a home was $351,130 and the prevailing interest rate was 5.8 percent.

The minimum household income needed to purchase a median-priced home at $174,100 in the United States in March 2004 was $39,570.

At 53 percent, the High Desert region was the most affordable region in the state, followed by the Sacramento region at 34 percent. The Monterey, Northern Wine Country, Orange County and Santa Barbara County regions were the least affordable in the state at 14 percent.

Los Angeles-based C.A.R. is a state trade association with more than 135,000 members.

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