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Home Affordability Rankings Reveal the Best Kept Secret in Housing

The pandemic-driven work-from-home wave didn’t only make sweatpants and midday naps acceptable. It also presented the unique opportunity for people to live in one place and work in another.

With remote workers no longer tethered to their city of employment, they’re free to seek out more desirable areas. Often, that means finding somewhere with affordable housing opportunities.

With this in mind, we looked at the most and least affordable metro areas in the United States. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) is the percentage of homes sold in an area that a family earning the local median income could afford.

As a baseline, 63.1% of homes sold in the US from January to March 2021 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $79,000.

The national HOI has been hovering around the 60 percent mark since 2013, even though the median sales price increased over 50% from $210K to $320K in that time.

While the national HOI has been steady for nearly a decade, a closer look at the data shows the extremes we’re seeing in the US housing market.

Let’s take a look at the home affordability rankings:

5 most affordable metro areas in Q1 2021

Metro areaHOI (% of homes affordable for median income)Median family income (000s)Median sales price (000s)National HOI rank
Cumberland, MD-WV97.560.81001
Fairbanks, AK96.362.52742
Monroe, MI95.978.61753
Wheeling, WV-OH95.563.61204
California-Lexington Park, MD95.2116.53005
Based on Q1 data for 2021.

5 least affordable metro areas for Q1 2021

Metro areaHOI (% of homes affordable for median income)Median family income (000s)Median sales price (000s)National HOI rank
Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA*  18.2104.8825229
San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA*17.4143.41,305230
Corvallis, OR15.993.0390231
Salinas, CA15.180.9725232
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA*11.678.7729233
Based on Q1 data for 2021. *Indicates Metropolitan Divisions. All others are Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

A nation of extremes

It’s not shocking that California dominates the latter affordability rankings list. Even with higher median family incomes, the median sales prices are astronomical.

Yes, the $1.305 million median sales price for San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco is the highest in the nation. And yes, even with an area median income over $143K only 17.4% of families can afford homes in the area.

For perspective, the median family salary in San Fran is enough to buy 13 homes (each with a nice garden shed) at the median home sales price of $100K in Cumberland, MD-WV.

It also makes sense that Cumberland tops the list of affordable metro areas, since $100K is the lowest median sales price in the country. Even with a median income of just $60K, 97.5% of families in the area can afford a home at the median price.

The best kept secret in housing

The lists also revealed a hidden gem in the California-Lexington Park, MD metro area. In terms of housing and income opportunities, this might be the best kept secret in the US.

California-Lexington Park has a median family income of $116.5K — well above the national average of $79K — yet its median home sales price is $20K under the national average.

Compared to metro areas with similar median family incomes, housing is dirt cheap.

Metro AreaMedian family incomeMedian sales priceNational HOI rank
California-Lexington Park, MD116.5K300K3
Boulder, CO116.9K583K181
Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA115.3K650K209
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA111.9K850K224
Based on Q1 2021 data.

Understanding affordability rankings

This probably isn’t a groundbreaking insight, but the key to home affordability is finding the right balance between income opportunities and house prices.

For example, the median family incomes of Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA ($78.7K) and Monroe, MI ($78.6K) are nearly identical with each other and the national median. Yet in LA, just 11.6% of homes are affordable at that income level. Meanwhile, in Monroe, nearly 96% of homes are within reach.

The difference is staggering, but there are miles of middle ground in between. And with remote work becoming more common, many homebuyers have the freedom to find an area with better housing opportunities for their income level.

Further Reading