Indianapolis continued its reign as the most affordable major U.S. housing market, while the Los Angeles area ranked as the least affordable major housing market, the National Association of Home Builders reported today in a fourth-quarter report.

The Housing Opportunity Index ranks metro areas based on the share of homes that are affordable based on the median sales price of homes and median family income for those areas.

An estimated 89.5 percent of homes in the Indianapolis metro area were affordable for median-income families in that market area in the fourth quarter, NAHB reported, and Indianapolis has ranked as the most affordable major metro area for the past 10 quarters. The median sales price of homes in Indianapolis was $113,000 in the fourth quarter, while the median family income was $63,800.

In the Los Angeles metro area, an estimated 6.2 percent of homes were available to median-income families in the fourth quarter. The fourth-quarter median sales price of Los Angeles-area homes was $456,000 in the fourth quarter, while the median family income was $61,700.

The Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., metro area ranked second in housing affordability among those metro areas with a population of 500,000 or more in 2006, followed by Detroit, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Troy, Mich.; Scranton, Pa.; Cleveland, Ohio; and Akron, Ohio metro areas.

Kokomo, Ind., ranked as the most affordable metro area among those areas with a population under 500,000 in 2006. Springfield, Ohio, was next on the list, followed by Saginaw, Mich.; Monroe Mich.; Canton-Massillon, Ohio; Lima, Ohio; Bay City, Mich.; Lansing, Mich.; Flint, Mich.; and Battle Creek, Mich.

Job loss and associated economic problems in Michigan have contributed to house-price declines and affordability. The state had a nation-leading unemployment rate of 7.6 percent in December compared to a national average of 5 percent. Ohio, which also has several metro areas that rank high in affordability, had an unemployment rate of 6 percent in December.

San Francisco ranked as the second least affordable U.S. metro area with a population above 500,000 in the fourth-quarter. Santa Ana, Calif., was third, followed by New York City; Ventura, Calif.; Nassau, N.Y.; Miami, Fla.; Riverside, Calif.; San Diego; and Modesto, Calif.

All 10 of the least affordable metro areas with a population under 500 are in California: Napa ranked as the least affordable, followed by Salinas, Merced, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Madera, El Centro and Yuba City.

About 115 of 220, or 52.2 percent of metro areas tracked in the report had index scores indicating that more than half of homes were affordable to median-income families in the fourth quarter.

Four markets shared the lowest median sales price of homes in the fourth quarter. Springfield, Ohio; Saginaw, Mich.; Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa.; and Elmira, N.Y., had a median sales price of $80,000 for the quarter, according to the report. The San Francisco metro area topped the list for the most expensive median sales prices in the fourth quarter, at $749,000.

The Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas, metro area had the lowest reported median family income in the fourth quarter, at $30,000, compared to a high of $101,100 for the Bethesda, Md., metro area.

In a separate report today, NAHB reported that builder confidence improved slightly in its latest survey.

The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose from 19 in January to 20 this month — an index score below 50 indicates that more builders view market conditions and the market outlook as poor than good. The index is based on a survey of builders that asks about current sales, sales expectations for the next six months, and traffic of prospective buyers. Builders issue ratings of “good,” “fair” or “poor” in the survey.

The index gauging sales expectations for the next six months fell from 28 in January to 27 in February, while the index gauging traffic of prospective buyers rose five points to 19 and the index gauging current sales conditions rose one point to 20, according to the index report.

Regionally, the index improved in the Northeast, South and West from January to February while remaining flat in the Midwest.

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