Mortgage rates have hovered below 4% for 10 weeks now, and their impact on overall housing affordability is starting to show.
According to new data, housing affordability is actually at its highest point in 18 months—despite a steady uptick in home prices. In fact, the average home price has jumped $12,000 since last November.
Still, low mortgage rates are muting the impact. Data from property data firm Black Knight shows that declining rates have increased Americans’ homebuying power by 15% since last fall, allowing them to purchase a home $45,000 more expensive for the exact same mortgage payment.
As Ben Graboske, president of data and analytics at Black Knight, explains, “The rate of annual home price growth has declined for 15 consecutive months. More recently, declining 30-year fixed interest rates have helped to ease some of those pressures, improving the affordability outlook considerably.”
Another report from title insurance provider First American recently came to similar conclusions. According to the findings, “real” home prices—which factor in income trends and interest rates—have actually declined 3.7% since last May.
They’ve seen the steepest drop along the high-cost West Coast. “Real” prices in San Jose, California have dipped 13.9% in the last year, while those in Seattle decreased 9.4%. At the state level, prices decreased the most in North Dakota, Wyoming and California.
Nationally, it takes just over 21% of a homeowner’s monthly income to cover the median mortgage payment. That’s down two percentage points since last fall and 13 points since the pre-crisis peak. Income-to-payment ratios are lowest in Ohio (12%), Indiana (13%) and Iowa (13%).
Experts largely predict mortgage rates to remain steady for the remainder of the year. Fannie Mae predicts 2019 to finish out at 3.7%, while Freddie Mac and the Mortgage Bankers Association expect a 3.9% rate. If the former rings true, affordability could reach its highest point in nearly 20 years, according to Mark Fleming, chief economist at First American.
“Record income levels combined with mortgage rates near historic lows mean consumer house-buying power is more than 150% greater today than it was in January 2000,” Fleming said. “While rates are expected to remain low, the fate of the labor market will determine the direction of the other half of the house-buying power equation and, ultimately, affordability.”