An affordability index produced by the California Association of Realtors trade group held steady from November to December but was down 5 percentage points since December 2004.

The percentage of households in California able to afford a median-priced home stood at 14 percent in December, compared with 19 percent for the same period a year ago, the group reported today.

C.A.R.’s monthly housing affordability index measures the percentage of households that can afford to purchase a median-priced home in California. C.A.R. also reports housing affordability indexes for regions and select counties within the state.

The minimum household income needed to purchase a median-priced home at $548,430 in California in December was $134,200, based on an average effective mortgage interest rate of 6.33 percent and assuming a 20 percent down payment, C.A.R. reported.

At 24 percent, the High Desert region was the most affordable C.A.R. region in the state, followed by the Sacramento region at 19 percent. Santa Barbara County was the least affordable region in the state at 6 percent, followed by the Northern Wine Country region at 7 percent.

Affordability was also low in the Northern Wine Country (7 percent), Monterey (9 percent), San Diego (9 percent), Orange County (10 percent), Palm Springs/Lower Desert (10 percent), and San Luis Obispo (10 percent) regions, the association also reported.

Home prices increased from $960,000 to $1.3 million (35.4 percent) in the Santa Barbara South Coast area from December 2004 to December 2005, the association reported.

Prices increased 31.1 percent in the High Desert area, 26.2 percent in the Santa Barbara County area, and 20.6 percent in the Riverside/San Bernardino area in that time, according to the report. Price increases were slightest in the North Santa Barbara County area (4 percent), San Diego area (4.6 percent), San Francisco Bay Area (8.2 percent), and Palm Springs/Lower Desert area (8.2 percent) from December 2004 to December 2005.

C.A.R. reported that it will begin reporting the Housing Affordability Index on a quarterly basis – rather than a monthly basis – this year. The first quarter HAI will be released May 4. The California Association of Realtors has about 185,000 members.

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