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Here's how much money you need to make to afford a home

Home prices up 6.5% over last year: Report
Home prices rose 6.5% over the last year, report finds 04:57

Having a shot at homeownership requires an increasingly high salary these days. 

Now, Americans must earn roughly $106,500 in order to comfortably afford a typical home, a significant increase from the $59,000 annual household income that put homeownership within reach for families in 2020, according to new research from digital real estate company Zillow. 

Homeownership is commonly considered affordable if a buyer spends no more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing costs, including mortgage payments, which at the time of the study, was around 6.6%. 

In 2020, the U.S. median income was roughly $66,000, making homeownership a real financial possibility for more than half of American households. 

Today, the landscape looks a lot different. 

The threshold required to comfortably afford to buy a home has risen 80%, to roughly $106,500. That exceeds the median household income which has only grown 23% over the same period, to $81,000, according to the American Community Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

What's driving up housing costs?

Indeed, wages have not grown as fast as home prices and mortgage rates have. 

Data from real estate investing platform Arrived shows that not even higher income earners — defined as those in the top 30% — can comfortably afford to buy a home in the larger U.S. metro areas, regardless of their age. By contrast, in 2001, the top 30% of income earners could afford homes in these cities as early as age 24. 

Buying a home is one of the biggest purchases an individual or household will ever make, and can be a way to build wealth over time as the value of the home rises. 

"Housing costs have soared over the past four years as drastic hikes in home prices, mortgage rates and rent growth far outpaced wage gains," said Orphe Divounguy, a senior economist at Zillow in a note on the report. 

He added that high housing costs are driving Americans to seek out property in more affordable parts of the country. Currently, the typical home in the U.S. is worth about $344,000. 

The solution to more Americans being priced out of homeownership, as Divounguy sees it, is simple: Create more supply.

"Mortgage rates easing down has helped some, but the key to improving affordability long term is to build more homes," Divounguy said. 

Homes are more affordably in these cities

Some of the more affordable cities in which to plant roots include Pittsburgh, where an income of roughly $58,200 is sufficient to buy a home without breaking the bank. Birmingham, Alabama; Cleveland; Memphis, Tennessee; and New Orleans are also relatively affordable for prospective homebuyers.

To afford a typical home in the most expensive metro areas, by contrast, one must rake in at least $200,000 annually. The most expensive market in the U.S. is San Jose, California, where home affordability requires a minimum income of roughly $454,300.

There are ways to get around affordability hurdles, though, if one's salary doesn't meet the minimum threshold. Some younger buyers have resorted to "house hacking," according to a separate Zillow report on housing trends. That means owning a home, but renting part of it out to generate enough income to pay for the roof above their heads.

Additionally, half of first-time buyers say they relied on financial help from family or friends to cover their first down payment, according to Zillow.

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