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Both prices and affordability are up

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 4, 2014 09:46 AM

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Just call it the price/affordability paradox.

Home prices are on a tear again, with a number of Boston neighborhoods and upscale suburbs having blown past their previous peaks set during the bubble years.

Yet Greater Boston homeowners are shelling out a lower percentage of their income on mortgage payments than they were back in the 80s and 90s, Zillow notes in a new report.

Now it's just over 22 percent but back then it was nearly 28 percent.

So what gives?

Well the answer can be found in three words: Crazy low rates.

The Fed's multitrillion-dollar monetary manipulations have acted as one huge home-buyer subsidy program, keeping mortgage rates at rock bottom levels in the 3s and 4s never seen before.

That's just half or even just a third of the mortgage rates buyers were stuck with back in the 80s and 90s.

Yet freakishly low interest rates are an unstable foundation for housing affordability.

In fact, the Fed has been steadily scaling back on on the monthly, multibillion-dollar purchases that have kept rates so low.

As the Fed steps back and interest rates rise, rates will inevitably creep higher.

Yet don't look for any corresponding correction in home prices.

No, home prices aren't coming down anytime soon. For starters, the economy is finally kicking into gear. But beyond that, home prices are notoriously "sticky" on the way down, as Chip Case, the co-founder of the Case-Shiller index, likes to say.

Meanwhile, the affordability question is all relative - a lot of depends on how big your paycheck is.

More than 40 percent of homes in the Boston area are unaffordable for families earning the median, $74,374.

It's not much consolation that down in New York, that number is 41 percent, rising to 50 percent or more in San Francisco and other overheated Golden State markets.

The inventory of homes for sale are also skidding along at historically low levels. So having 40 percent of the market effectively off limits for the average buyer just further fuels feeding frenzy for those homes that are affordable and well priced.

What say you?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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