Declining mortgage interest rates and rising family income improved housing affordability conditions in the fourth quarter, the National Association of Realtors reported today.

NAR’s composite Housing Affordability Index was 131.8 during the fourth quarter of 2004, up 2.9 percentage points from 128.9 reported in the third quarter. The index was 5 points below the same period a year earlier when it stood at 136.8.

The index shows the nation’s typical household had 131.8 percent of the income needed to purchase a home at the fourth quarter median existing-home price, which was $187,500. This index measures affordability factors for all home buyers making a 20 percent down payment, with an index of 100 defined as the point where a median-income family has the exact amount of income needed to purchase a median-priced existing home.

The fourth-quarter median family income was projected to be $55,239.

David Lereah, NAR’s chief economist, said the improvement in housing affordability is sustaining historically high home sales. “The median-income family is very well positioned to buy a median-priced home in most of the country,” he said. “Favorable housing affordability conditions are coinciding with a need and desire to buy into the American dream of home ownership, so it’s no surprise that we ended a record year on a high note.”

For homes purchased during the fourth quarter, the median mortgage payment consumed 19 percent of family income. The typical household could afford a home costing $247,100, well above the national median price.

NAR President Al Mansell, CEO of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Salt Lake City, said the outlook is favorable. “Mortgage interest rates will be rising very slowly, so potential home buyers will have ample opportunity to get into the market this year. Housing remains the soundest investment a family could make.”

According to the Federal Housing Finance Board, the average effective mortgage interest rate for existing homes was 5.72 percent during the fourth quarter, down from 5.82 percent in the third quarter; it was 5.83 percent in the fourth quarter of 2003. This is a weighted average interest rate between fixed and adjustable loans, including the cost of points, and represents a true bottom-line mortgage cost.

Affordability for first-time home buyers also improved, rising in the fourth quarter to 76.2 from a reading of 74.8 in the third quarter; it was 3.2 points below the fourth quarter 2003 index.

The association’s First-Time Homebuyer Affordability Index shows a typical first-time buyer household, aged 25 to 44, with an income of $31,349, had 76.2 percent of the income needed to purchase a typical starter home with a 10 percent down payment. The median starter home price was $159,400, during the fourth quarter. The typical first-time buyer could afford a home costing $121,500.

A recent NAR survey shows 24 percent of first-time buyers receive a gift from a relative or friend to help with the down payment, and another 6 percent get a loan from a relative or friend.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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