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Top Five Cities Where Affordability Declined the Most, According to First American Real House Price Index

—Faster nominal house price appreciation can erode, or even eliminate, the boost in affordability from lower mortgage rates, especially if household income growth doesn’t keep up, says Chief Economist Mark Fleming—

SANTA ANA, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–First American Financial Corporation (NYSE: FAF), a leading global provider of title insurance, settlement services and risk solutions for real estate transactions, today released the September 2020 First American Real House Price Index (RHPI). The RHPI measures the price changes of single-family properties throughout the U.S. adjusted for the impact of income and interest rate changes on consumer house-buying power over time at national, state and metropolitan area levels. Because the RHPI adjusts for house-buying power, it also serves as a measure of housing affordability.

Chief Economist Analysis: Affordability Declines Nationally for Second Straight Month

“Affordability declined month over month in September for the second month in a row, even as two of the three key drivers of the Real House Price Index (RHPI), household income and mortgage rates, swung in favor of increased affordability,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist at First American. “The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell by 0.05 percentage points and household income increased 0.2 percent compared with August 2020. Rising household income and declining mortgage rates each boost consumer house-buying power.

“However, rising house-buying power drives greater demand, and surging demand in a supply-constrained market fuels faster nominal house price appreciation. This is exactly what occurred in September, as nominal house prices, the third component of the RHPI, appreciated at its fastest monthly pace since 2013,” said Fleming. “The rapid house price appreciation was enough to overcome the benefit of increased house-buying power. But, real estate is local and house-buying power and nominal house price gains vary by city, so the national perspective may not tell us much about what’s happening to affordability where you live.”

The Five Cities Where Affordability Declined the Most

“Declining mortgage rates increase affordability equally in each market as mortgage rates are generally the same across the country. However, household income levels and nominal house prices vary by market, so the affordability dynamic varies as well,” said Fleming. “Of the 50 markets we track, affordability declined in 41 of them month over month. The five markets with the highest month-over-month decline in affordability were:

  1. Kansas City, Mo. (-2.3 percent)
  2. Las Vegas (-1.9 percent)
  3. Philadelphia (-1.7 percent)
  4. Pittsburgh (-1.6 percent)
  5. Portland, Ore. (-1.6 percent)

Affordability Story Differs Based on Local Dynamics

“In September, Kansas City, Mo. had the greatest month-over-month decrease in affordability, mostly due to of the 1.7 percent monthly decline in household income, the largest household income decline relative to the other four markets,” said Fleming. “Las Vegas and Philadelphia both had faster nominal house price appreciation than Kansas City, but their household incomes did not decline by nearly as much.

“Finally, the remaining cities on the list, Pittsburgh and Portland, demonstrate the intricate dance between house-buying power and nominal house price appreciation. Pittsburgh and Portland both experienced a 1.6 percent decline in affordability in September, but for different reasons,” said Fleming. “Pittsburgh’s decline in household income was marginal and not enough to offset the affordability boost from lower mortgage rates, so house-buying power improved in the steel city. Yet, Pittsburgh’s nominal house price appreciation was the fastest of the five cities, outpacing house-buying power, so affordability waned. While Portland’s nominal house price appreciation was slower than Pittsburgh, house-buying power declined significantly more due to falling household income, resulting in the same decline in affordability as Pittsburgh.”

What Will Drive Housing Affordability in 2021?

“The good news is that on a year-over-year basis affordability declined in only 13 of the top 50 markets, and housing remains 5 percent more affordable nationally than a year ago. However, the list of markets with declining affordability on an annual and monthly basis has swelled in recent months,” said Fleming. “The growing number of markets where affordability is declining demonstrates the dynamic we expected to see – the strong growth in house-buying power in 2020 has boosted demand in a historically supply-constrained market, putting tremendous upward pressure on nominal house price appreciation.

“Faster nominal house price appreciation can erode, or even eliminate, the boost in affordability from lower mortgage rates, especially if household income growth doesn’t keep up,” said Fleming. “With mortgage rates expected to remain low in 2021 and supply expected to remain constrained, affordability trends will be closely tied to shifts in household income in the months ahead.”

September 2020 Real House Price Index

  • Real house prices increased 0.78 percent between August 2020 and September 2020.
  • Real house prices declined 5.0 percent between September 2019 and September 2020.
  • Consumer house-buying power, how much one can buy based on changes in income and interest rates, increased 0.79 percent between August 2020 and September 2020, and increased 15.9 percent year over year.
  • Median household income has increased 5.9 percent since September 2019 and 71.8 percent since January 2000.
  • Real house prices are 26.3 percent less expensive than in January 2000.
  • While unadjusted house prices are now 16.8 percent above the housing boom peak in 2006, real, house-buying power-adjusted house prices remain 48.2 percent below their 2006 housing boom peak.

September 2020 Real House Price State Highlights

  • The five states with the greatest year-over-year increase in the RHPI are: Wyoming (+3.2 percent), Oklahoma (+1.6 percent), Ohio (+1.0 percent), Tennessee (+0.9 percent), and Arizona (+0.5 percent).
  • The five states with the greatest year-over-year decrease in the RHPI are: California (-8.2 percent), New Hampshire (-7.6 percent), Massachusetts (-7.4 percent), Hawaii (-7.3 percent), and Maryland (-6.7 percent).

September 2020 Real House Price Local Market Highlights

  • Among the Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) tracked by First American, the five markets with the greatest year-over-year increase in the RHPI are: Pittsburgh (+6.7 percent), Cleveland (+4.6 percent), Kansas City, Mo. (+3.7 percent), Houston (+3.1 percent), and New Orleans (+2.8 percent).
  • Among the Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) tracked by First American, the five markets with the greatest year-over-year decrease in the RHPI are: San Francisco (-15.0 percent), San Jose, Calif. (-12.9 percent), Boston (-10.4 percent), San Diego (-9.2 percent), and Miami (-8.8 percent).

Next Release

The next release of the First American Real House Price Index will take place the week of December 28, 2020 for October 2020 data.

Sources

Methodology

The methodology statement for the First American Real House Price Index is available at http://www.firstam.com/economics/real-house-price-index.

Disclaimer

Opinions, estimates, forecasts and other views contained in this page are those of First American’s Chief Economist, do not necessarily represent the views of First American or its management, should not be construed as indicating First American’s business prospects or expected results, and are subject to change without notice. Although the First American Economics team attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. © 2020 by First American. Information from this page may be used with proper attribution.

About First American

First American Financial Corporation (NYSE: FAF) is a leading provider of title insurance, settlement services and risk solutions for real estate transactions that traces its heritage back to 1889. First American also provides title plant management services; title and other real property records and images; valuation products and services; home warranty products; property and casualty insurance; banking, trust and wealth management services; and other related products and services. With total revenue of $6.2 billion in 2019, the company offers its products and services directly and through its agents throughout the United States and abroad. In 2020, First American was named to the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® list for the fifth consecutive year. More information about the company can be found at www.firstam.com.

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