Home Affordability Reaches An All-Time High

Home Opportunity Index (2005-2012)Home affordability moved higher last quarter, boosted by the lowest mortgage rates in history, a rise in median income, and slow-to-recover home prices throughout the country.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the quarterly Home Opportunity Index read 75.9 in 2011′s fourth quarter. More than 3 in 4 homes sold between October-December 2011, in other words, were affordable to households earning the national median income of $64,200.

Never in recorded history have U.S. homes been as affordable on a national level. Even on a regional and local level, affordability soared.

Affordability was highest in the Midwest; 7 of the 10 most affordable markets nationwide were in the nation’s heartland. 

The Top 5 most affordable U.S. cities in Q4 2011 were:

  1. Kokomo, IN (99.2% home affordability)
  2. Fairbanks, AK (97.5% home affordability)
  3. Cumberland, WV (96.9% home affordability)
  4. Lima, OH (96.0% home affordability)
  5. Rockford, IL (95.5% home affordability)

These are each considered “small markets”. The most affordable “major market” was the Youngstown, Ohio area, where 95.1% of homes sold were affordable to households earning the area’s local median income.

Not surprisingly, America’s “least affordable cities” were regionally-concentrated, too, with 7 of the 10 least affordable markets located in either California or Texas.

San Francisco (#3), Santa Ana (#4), and Los Angeles (#5) led for the Golden State but, for the 15th consecutive quarter, the New York metropolitan area took “Least Affordable Market” honors.

Just 29 percent of homes in and around New York City were affordable to households earning the area’s median income last quarter. It’s a large jump from the quarter prior during which 23 percent of homes were affordable.

The rankings for all 225 metro areas are available for download on the NAHB website.

The 10 Longest Commutes In The United States

Longest CommutesAccording to the Census Bureau, more than 3.2 million U.S. workers spend over 3 hours commuting to and from work each day.

Commutes exceeding 90 minutes in each direction are known as “extreme commutes” in Census Bureau parlance. As compared to typical commute times nationwide, they’re aptly named.

The national, average commute time is just 25.1 minutes

For home buyers in any U.S. city, make sure to make commute times a consideration before placing an offer on a property. The length of your daily commute will make an impact on your life.

Studies shows that shorter commutes are linked to higher levels of life satisfaction. Long commutes are linked to low levels of life satisfaction.

As ranked by the Census Bureau, here are the 10 cities with the longest average commute times, where commuting is defined as the total time to arrive at work, inclusive of all modes of transportation (i.e. automobile, train, subway, foot, or other) :

  1. New York / North New Jersey / Long Island : 34.6 minutes
  2. Washington, DC / Arlington / Alexandria : 33.4 minutes
  3. Poughkeepsie / Newburgh / Middletown, NY: 32.2 minutes
    Bremerton / Silverdale, WA : 30.8 minutes
    Chicago / Naperville / Joliet, IL : 30.7 minutes
    Winchester, VA : 30.3 minutes
    Atlanta / Sandy Springs / Marietta, GA 30.1 minutes
    Riverside / San Bernardino / Ontario, CA : 30.0 minutes
    Stockton, CA : 29.8 minutes
    Baltimore / Towson, MD : 29.7 minutes

    Poughkeepsie / Newburgh / Middletown, NY: 32.2 minutes

  4. Bremerton / Silverdale, WA : 30.8 minutes
  5. Chicago / Naperville / Joliet, IL : 30.7 minutes
  6. Winchester, VA : 30.3 minutes
  7. Atlanta / Sandy Springs / Marietta, GA 30.1 minutes
  8. Riverside / San Bernardino / Ontario, CA : 30.0 minutes
  9. Stockton, CA : 29.8 minutes
  10. Baltimore / Towson, MD : 29.7 minutes

By contrast, the shortest commute belongs to residents of Great Falls, Montana. The average commute for the city’s 58,000 residents is 14.2 minutes.

A long commute to work should not deter you from moving to a particular home or neighborhood, but your time-en-route should be a consideration. Before making an offer on a home , therefore, practice the rush hour commute from your potential new neighborhood in the morning, and back to it again that evening.

Then, imagine making the commute every day.

America’s To 10 Safest Cities, Ranked

America's safest citiesLooking for safe cities in which to live? A recent study may help you.

Titled “America’s Safest Cities“, Forbes Magazine compiled data from more than 70 cities with populations of 250,000 or more, and ranked them by violent crime rate as reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A “violent crime” is one that can be categorized as murder, robbery, and assault, among others. Then, for each metropolis, local traffic-fatality rates were added to the area’s violent crime rate, and averaged into the data.

Forbes presents the 10 safest large cities in America as :

  1. Plano, Texas
  2. Henderson, Nevada
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. Santa Ana, California
  5. Lincoln, Nebraska
  6. San Jose, California
  7. Mesa. Arizona
  8. Colorado Springs, Colorado
  9. Aurora, Colorado
  10. New York, New York

Forbes is quick to note that “gridlocked” traffic patterns help keep cities safe; which may explain why cities like Honolulu and New York City made the Top 10. When cars are forced to move more slowly, the report states, traffic-related fatalities tend to plummet.

Don’t rush to make a home-buying decision based on Forbes data alone, however. Like everything else in real estate, data is local and city-wide statistics are too broad to be helpful to an everyday buyer.

For accurate, real-time, local crime data, be sure to ask a real estate profession.

The Most Expensive ZIP Codes In The Country (2011 Edition)

Most Expensive ZIP CodesIn the housing market, amenities and location have as much to do with a home’s value as the everyday forces of supply-and-demand. Whereas the latter causes home values to rise and fall over time, the former creates a starting point for said values. 

Where you live — and the features of your home — determine your home’s price range. Naturally, homes in some areas are consistently higher-valued than homes in others.

Using data compiled by real estate market data firm Altos Research, Forbes Magazine presents America’s 10 most expensive ZIP codes. California and the New York Metro area dominate the list.

  1. Alpine, NJ (07620) : $4,550,000
  2. Atherton, CA (94027) : $4,295,000
  3. Sagaponack, NY (11962) : $3.595,000
  4. Hillsborough, CA (94010) : $3,499,000
  5. Beverly Hills, CA (90210) : $3,469,891
  6. New York, NY (10012) : $3,392,574
  7. New York, NY (10013) : $3,317,962
  8. Water Mill, NY (11976) : $3,300,000
  9. Montecito, CA (93108) : $3,099,348
  10. Old Westbury, NY (11568) : $3,095,000

In fact, of the top 50 most expensive ZIP codes, only 6 are located outside of California and New York regions. 3 are Colorado resort towns — Snowmass (81654), Aspen (81611) and Telluride (81435) — one is in Maryland, one is in Florida, and the last is in Washington State.

Chicago-suburb Kenilworth (60043) is the top-ranked Midwest ZIP code. It placed 86th overall.

The Forbes list may be interesting but, to home buyers or sellers , it should not be the final word in home values. Real estate is a local market which means that — even within a given ZIP code — prices can vary based on street and neighborhood.

Look past general data and get specific. Talk to your real estate agent for local market pricing.