As Housing Prices Rise, Affordability Squeeze is Coming
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As Housing Prices Rise, Affordability Squeeze is Coming

By Zillow

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Housing affordability improvements brought on by historically low mortgage rates and dampened rent growth are quickly evaporating as housing costs rise faster than incomes. A new Zillow® analysis finds this affordability[1] issues are expected to worsen by the end of the year and are likely to leave millions of newly housing cost-burdened. 


Interest rates play a major role in determining monthly payments, a key component of affordability. For the average U.S. home buyer, rates that began dropping in late 2018 and fell to record lows in January 2021 have kept mortgage payments[2] as a share of income lower than their previous peak in late 2018. But that's about to change. 


Mortgage payments as a percent of income reached 19.4% in June -- the most current observed data -- and are forecast to surpass 2018 levels in August. Assuming home values grow in line with Zillow forecasts, that burden could rise to more than 23.1% by the end of the year, depending on the path of mortgage rates going forward.


"Strong demand and rising prices for homes are overwhelming the ability of low mortgage rates to keep monthly payments down," said Nicole Bachaud, Zillow economic data analyst. "As prices continue to outpace income gains, affordability constraints will start to slow home price growth."


Austin in particular has seen monthly payments for new mortgages rising faster than income growth, a trend that has pushed the Sun Belt standout six spots down the affordability ranks over the past year. As of June 2021, Austin is more affordable than eight major U.S. metros. But by December, it should surpass Seattle, Miami, and New York, leaving only expensive California metros beyond it: San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside. Keep in mind, though, that typical home values and sale prices in Austin are still less than half of those in San Francisco and San Jose. 


New home buyers in Austin in June 2020 spent 19.7% of their income on monthly mortgage payments, but by June 2021, that number had risen to 25.3%. If mortgage rates stay at just under 3%, Austin will see new home buyers' share of income spent on mortgage bills rise to 30.1% by December, beyond the 30% threshold generally considered to be housing burdened.


If rates rise above 3% over the next few months, monthly payments for new mortgages will go up as well, and the change is more pronounced for costly houses. In the nation's most expensive markets, San Jose and San Francisco, an increase in interest rates to 3.5% by December could cost homeowners an extra $378 and $334 more per month in mortgage payments, respectively. If interest rates rise to 4%, those increases stand at $751 and $663, respectively.


The Cost of Rising Rents


Rent payments as a portion of income are forecast to rise from 29.96% in June to 30.2% by December. That will push U.S. rents beyond the 30% threshold for renters being housing burdened, leaving less money left over for groceries, bills, and other expenses. The pandemic's impact was felt more keenly by renters, who were more likely to report a loss of income and/or job loss than homeowners, according to a recent Zillow survey, and homeowners typically earn more than renters do. 


Previous research found that when rent affordability reaches above 32% housing costs can lead to a rapid rise in homelessness. As of June, 10 of the 50 largest U.S. metros have rent burdens beyond 32%, and Denver is expected to join that list by December.  


Some metros are forecasted to take a dramatic step down in rent affordability, while others (13 of the top-50) are predicted to improve. Buffalo, NY is expected to drop from 23rd most affordable in June to 35th among the 50 largest metros, while red-hot Phoenix will drop from 29th to 38th. But, in Cleveland, where the for-sale market has been red-hot, renters can expect to save about $23 on rent per month between now and 2022, while Providence, RI moved up five spots on the rental affordability charts, from 31st to 26th.


"Increasing the available supply of homes -- especially more dense, affordable housing types like townhomes and condos -- will help balance the market and give renters and prospective home buyers opportunities to seek relief from being burdened by housing costs," Bachaud said.  


Endnotes:


[1] The rent and mortgage affordability metrics used in this report were produced using the Nowcasting methodology explained in this document.


[2] Monthly mortgage payments include principal, interest, property taxes, and insurance.


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