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The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate just hit 8% for the first time since 2000, putting housing financing costs at historically high levels.
Given high prices and high interest rates, homebuyers must earn $114,627 to afford a median-priced house in the U.S., according to a recent report by Redfin, a real estate firm, which analyzed median monthly mortgage payments in August 2023 and August 2022.
The firm considers a monthly mortgage payment to be affordable if the homebuyer spends no more than 30% of their income on housing. At the time of the analysis, the average 30-year fixed mortgage was 7.07%.
The median U.S. household income was $75,000 in 2022, Redfin found. While hourly wages in the U.S. grew 5% over the past year, according to the real estate firm, that has not outpaced rising housing costs.
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Those current market trends have left homeownership out of reach for many people, experts say.
“Housing affordability is incredibly difficult for potential homebuyers,” said Jessica Lautz, deputy chief economist and vice president of research at the National Association of Realtors.
How home affordability has changed
In August 2020, the typical monthly mortgage payment was $1,581, based on an average interest rate of 2.94%, Redfin found. At the time, the typical house cost roughly $329,000, and homebuyers would have needed an annual income of $75,000 to afford it.
However, those record-low levels were the result of “highly unusual events, like a pandemic and a nearly catastrophic financial crisis,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com.
Nowadays, the typical U.S. homebuyer’s monthly mortgage payment is $2,866, according to Redfin — an all-time high.
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While the economy and the housing markets move through cycles, it’s unlikely for mortgage rates to decline substantially in the near term, especially as the Federal Reserve is expected to keep the benchmark rate high for longer, added Hamrick.
Additionally, the constrained supply of homes for sale is a “direct result of the lock-in effect,” said Hamrick. The low supply pressures prices upward as current homeowners are less compelled to move or put their houses on the market as they don’t want to trade their low-rate mortgage for one that is significantly higher.
“Higher rates are also increasing the cost and availability of builder development and construction loans, which harms supply and contributes to lower housing affordability,” Alicia Huey, NAHB’s chairman and a homebuilder and developer from Birmingham, Alabama, previously told CNBC.
‘This pain shall pass’
“People should know that this pain shall pass,” said Melissa Cohn, regional vice president of William Raveis Mortgage in New York. “In the next year or two years, interest rates will be lower, and people will have the ability to refinance.”
That said, competition for homes on the market is likely to be worse in a few years as interest rates cool, she said. There are many buyers who remain on the sidelines because of current high rates.
“When interest rates come down, everyone’s going to come back to the marketplace,” said Cohn.
How to decide: Buy now or wait?
The decision of purchasing a home is intensely personal and prospective homebuyers should tread with caution, experts say.
“When deciding to purchase a home, it comes down to personal finances, stability and the length of time they plan on owning,” said Lautz.
In addition to mortgage costs, prospective homebuyers should keep their other financial goals in mind, as well as maintenance costs, said Hamrick. The biggest regret among recent homebuyers was not being prepared for maintenance and other costs, according to a Bankrate survey.
However, “homeownership is the primary means of wealth creation in this country,” said Hamrick.
The typical homeowner has $396,200 in wealth compared to the average renter at $10,400, added Lautz.
First-time homebuyers may consider tapping retirement funds or taking advantage of first-time homebuyer programs that may offer down payment assistance. Buyers can also consider temporary buydowns, which are paid by either the real estate broker or seller, to help lower the monthly payment, said Cohn.
However, it will be important for prospective buyers to work with professionals in the long run, experts say. Buyers should examine all options, consult with realtors about overlook areas and talk with mortgage brokers to consider all the possible loan options, said Lautz.
“This is potentially the most expensive transaction somebody will be associated with in their lifetimes,” said Hamrick. “It should be done as well as possible to the benefit of the buyer.”
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