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Published: Apr 23, 2024 4 min read
Illustration of house-shaped balloons getting away from their owner.
Money; Getty Images

At this point, it's common knowledge that many Americans are having difficulties affording new houses. In fact, the housing market has become so challenging that even existing homeowners can sympathize, as many say they wouldn't be able to afford their own home if they had to buy it today.

In a new survey, nearly 2 out of every 5 homeowners say they couldn't afford their house at today's prices. And while this might be a good thing for owners for whom real estate is a store of value, it also speaks to the state of the market that buyers now find themselves in.

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According to survey results released Tuesday by real estate company Redfin, 38% of homeowners say they probably or definitely could not afford to buy the homes they live in at today's prices. A majority of homeowners surveyed have owned their homes for at least five years.

For reference, the median sales price of a home at the beginning of 2019 was $313,000. By the end of 2023, the most recent date for which the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has data, the median sales price had increased by over $100,000 to $417,700.

In the last decade, the housing market has seen explosive growth. Record-low interest rates at the onset of the pandemic allowed many homebuyers the opportunity to purchase a house with mortgage rates under 3%; however, post-COVID-19 inflation led the Federal Reserve to get involved. Eleven consecutive times indirectly caused mortgage rates to surge and homeowners to hunker down, giving way to an inventory crunch.

Interest rates are now presumably at their peak, but Fed officials have remained unclear on the timing of their first cut. In the meantime, the much-higher, near-8% mortgage rates plaguing the real estate market right now are likely to stick around.

Simultaneously to the swift pivot in mortgage rates, home values have been spiking.

Home sale prices over the last 10 years have doubled, according to Redfin, and have climbed about 50% since 2019. Not only do potential buyers have to clear the barrier of high mortgage interest, they also have to reckon with home prices remaining near record highs. This reality is unlikely to reverse anytime soon, too, with the Fed continually pushing back its first rate cut and Fannie Mae predicting a 4.8% home price increase by the end of 2024.

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First-time homebuyers need a $120K salary to afford a house

As the cost of homebuying climbs, first-time buyers need a six-figure salary to purchase the average home. Research released Monday from real estate company Clever finds that with a 10% down payment, buyers need to earn nearly $120,000 to afford a median-priced home.

The company explains that most first-time buyers nowadays are paying less than 10% down on a home, as compared to the 19% average down payment by repeat buyers. In order to comfortably afford a median-priced home, a first-time buyer paying 10% down with a mortgage rate of 7.2% (the current 30-year mortgage rate) needs to earn an income of $119,769 annually.

But even with a 20% down payment, which would lower the monthly cost, the average American is still unable to afford a home in most places. Median earners — those making $74,755 — paying down 20% of a home's value can only comfortably buy homes in four U.S. states and six of the 50 largest cities.

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