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November 5, 2018 | Housing Least Affordable in a Decade

Mike 'Mish' Shedlock

Mike Shedlock / Mish is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. Sitka Pacific is an asset management firm whose goal is strong performance and low volatility, regardless of market direction.
It takes 23.6% of median income to make the monthly payment on the average-priced home.

In it’s latest report, the Black Knight Mortgage Monitor confuses affordability with payment stress and fails to make an apples-to-apples comparison when determining homes are “more affordable” today than in the period 1995-2003.

Nonetheless, the report is interesting for what it does show. I am passing on a number of suggestion to them as to how to make the report better.

Mortgage Monitor Bullet Points

  • It now takes 23.6% of median income to make the monthly payment on the average-priced home, making housing the least affordable it’s been in nearly a decade.
  • The monthly principal and interest payment needed to purchase the average-priced home has seen a $190 per month increase since the beginning of 2018, an 18% jump.
  • Despite the recent tightening, housing on average across the U.S. remains more affordable than the long term benchmark (1995–2003) of 25.1%.
  • Even if home prices were to stay flat, another 0.50% increase in interest rates would make homes less affordable than long term norms.

California Least Affordable

  • California is the least affordable state in which to live, requiring 39% of the median income in the state to purchase the average-priced home.
  • Even more noteworthy is the increasing delta between affordability today and California’s own long-term averages.
  • It currently requires 7.5% more of the median income to purchase the average-priced California home today (39.3% vs. 31.8%) that it did from 1995-2003.
  • While that payment-to-income ratio is still far more affordable than the 59% peak in 2006, symptoms of California’s tight affordability environment appear to be emerging.

Affordability Today vs Historical Average

  • 7 of the 10 states that are now less affordable than long-term averages have seen their rate of home price growth slow over the past six months.
  • At the start of 2018, just two states – California and Hawaii – were less affordable than their long-term norms.
  • As of today, 10 states have passed those benchmarks and another six are within 1.0% of long-term affordability levels.
  • Hawaii is the least affordable state compared to long-term norms, requiring nearly 8% more of median income to make the payment on the average home than long-term averages.

Interesting but Flawed

The stats are interesting but there are a number of fundamental flaws in the reporting.

Median income and payments should be compared to median home prices, preferably by metro-area, but minimally by state.

A few charts will highlight the issues.

Real Median Income vs Sales Price Nationally

Real Median Income in California vs Sales Price in Western Region

​I do not have payment data but the decline in interest rates will not offset the rise in home prices.

My charts are flawed as well. I used new home prices even though existing home prices would be a better fit because Fred history on existing sales only dates to September of 2017.

Let’s try one more thing.

Real Median Income vs Case-Shiller 20-City Index

Understanding Affordability

To understand where affordability really is, Black Knight needs to look at real median household income vs home prices of repeat sales of the same house.

Real median household income has been flat. Home prices sure haven’t been.

It’s the net of rising real incomes vs price (not payment) on the same house that determines whether or not homes are more affordable.

Using nominal wages to calculate “affordability” is a mistake. The CPI is hugely understated because it does not include home prices.

Those in school or paying for their own medical insurance would also dispute the CPI.

And what about rising property taxes?

Affordability vs Payment Stress

Consider a person who bought a house 20 years ago with a 30-year mortgage and refinanced lower three times without pulling any cash out.

Such a house is not more affordable today in any realistic sense even though payments by the original homeowner are less.

That person has more money to spend (and less mortgage payment stress), not because incomes are up, but because their payment fell (assuming property taxes did not rise too rapidly).

Similarly, a person in a variable rate mortgage in a rising rate environment has more payment stress while there is less payment stress in a falling rate environment.

In this sense, Black Knight also confuses affordability with decreasing mortgage stress on existing homeowners.


Compare the following charts to the Black Knight statement: “Despite the recent tightening, housing on average across the U.S. remains more affordable than the long term benchmark (1995–2003) of 25.1%.

Inflation Adjusted Case Shiller USA

Inflation Adjusted Case Shiller 20 Cities + USA

Click on either chart to expand.

Real median household incomes have been stagnant. Real home prices haven’t.

Lower mortgage payments of existing homeowners do not make homes more affordable.

The Fed blew another housing bubble. Once again, the size of the bubble varies city to city.

I would be very interested in another take on this by Black Knight along the lines suggested above.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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November 5th, 2018

Posted In: Mish Talk

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