Is the housing crisis over? Somewhat. Does that mean you can afford a home? Probably not.
If you earn a median-income, you can afford a median-priced home in only 10 of the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, according to a study by personal finance site Interest.com. Looking for some good news in there? Well consider it an improvement from last year, when median-income households couldn't afford mid-range homes in 17 out of 25 metro areas.
That's the kind of mixed bag U.S. homeowners and potential home buyers have been digging into all year. As soon as the housing market looks up and foreclosures vanish, a glut of abandoned homes reminds everyone that the American Dream doesn't involve a home or even vehicle ownership as much as it once did.
Still, 17 million Americans said they planned on buying a home this year, even though the median existing home price in the U.S. leapt past $220,000 for the first time since the housing crisis began.
Despite median home prices that topped $270,000 in the Northeast this year, Baltimore jumped from 17th-most affordable in 2013 to sixth-most affordable in 2014. Minneapolis and Atlanta swapped the top two spots, with Minneapolis taking the crown this year as the median home price in the Midwest held below $180,000 for much of the year, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Not surprisingly, some of the least affordable homes cropped up in the West. Sacramento experienced the biggest drop in home affordability over the past 12 months, sinking from 12th to 18th in the ranking. Los Angeles (22nd), San Diego (24th) and San Francisco (25th) also sank toward the bottom of the list as median home prices in the West soared past $300,000 this summer. Only the New York City area ranked among them at No. 23.
Overall, median home prices rose 6 percent over the past year in all the areas surveyed, while incomes rose by about 2 percent. The only real break for middle class homebuyers came from mortgage rates, which Freddie Mac notes were down from 4.5 percent for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in January to just 4 percent this month.
"Low mortgage rates are helping home affordability to some extent, but the key ingredient -- which has been missing to this point -- is substantial income growth," according to Mike Sante, managing editor of Interest.com. "Millennials, in particular, are struggling to overcome their student loans and save enough money for a down payment."
That's even greater cause for concern. Considering that they don't trust banks and are completely averse to investment risk, millennials aren't exactly fired up about buying their first home and don't see owning one as an inevitability. If home prices are pricing home ownership out of the reach of the middle class, there's a strong chance that what remains of the middle class won't view homeownership as a priority. Even if the housing crisis is over, the crisis of confidence among buyers hasn't waned a bit.