Posted by: Timothy Ellis (The Tim)

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

32 responses to “Charting How Much Home the Median Income can Afford”

  1. softwarengineer

    I’ve Blogged This Before Tim

    Your charts are good, don’t get me wrong, but what avg medium household income was used?

    IMO, the charts used the “hyped up” mainstream media avg household income that includes larger packs of gypsies per household, due to the repression causing more cohabitation lately, and also averaged in the top 5% of incomes that are totally disproportionately “out of whack” with 98% of the home purchasing households’ wage increases the last few decades. Both of these statistical anomalies makes “affordability” using your graphs a statistical exercise in math, rather than a common sense evaluation of what the real avg household can actually afford with 1.2 incomes and approx $17/hr per capita worker avg pay.

    Let me work the numbers:

    (17)(2088)(1.2)= $42.6K

    x 28%= $11.9K

    or about $1000/mo for mortgage payments:

    sounds more in the $150K range for an avg pre-approved loan.

    Hades, both the elite Dem/Reps like to say $250K/yr is “Middle Income”…..LOL….dream on.

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  2. Scotsman

    Whoa- looks like we had a bit of a bubble there! And it looks like we still have one. The new question is: as incomes continue to fall will home prices ever be able to catch up? At the very minimum it looks like homes have another 15% to fall before matching historical levels of affordability.

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  3. Herman

    A fantastic chart.

    Other silent killers that the chart does not show is how inflation of other household necessities and the cost to the household to service their non-RE debt (e.g. credit card payments) has changed over that time. Those things can affect how practical it is for a household to apply 28% of their income (or more) to housing.

    Another is an equity/savings killer. Many households have lost equity in their current homes or have lost part of their stock & savings accounts between 2005-2010. This makes them less able to buy down the debt on the new house; in other words, they must support their offering price with the pledge of 28% of their future income, as opposed to a combination of that plus a big down payment.

    It’s a fantastic chart in its own right, and I wonder if these other effects could somehow be included in an even more robust one.

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  4. Interloper

    The Affordable Home Price index is *great*, and I hope you run it every month until after we’ve clearly bottomed. It may well *indicate* the bottom. (this method could be tested on other cities that may have already bottomed)

    Yeah, it looks like there’s 12-15% left to fall, which feels about right.

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  5. hungryneck

    Good stuff – I’m expecting that median price to swing below the hypothetical ‘affordable’ sometime in the next 3-5 years.

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  6. Scotsman

    RE: hungryneck @ 6

    Agreed- given the economy and current attitudes toward housing as a (failed) investment I’d certainly expect an over correction, perhaps quite a significant one.

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  7. rational

    By Scotsman @ 7:

    RE: hungryneck @ 6

    Agreed- given the economy and current attitudes toward housing as a (failed) investment I’d certainly expect an over correction, perhaps quite a significant one.

    I’m afraid attitudes have barely changed towards home as an investment. People bought bigger and bigger homes, building what I called “excess capacity”. That trend hasn’t changed yet. People are still buying large homes and borrowing 80+%, sometimes even close to 97%, to buy beyond their means. I’ll believe the “attitudes are changing” meme when I see people paying at least 50% down and the average home size starts to shrink. There is no need to have excess capacity in a home — by excess capacity I mean having rarely used extra bedrooms, dedicated rooms (den, media, formal etc) that are little used, and having huge lawns that take lots of time, water, and fertilizer to maintain.

    We just had a great opportunity for people to realize that they should downsize, but as far as I can tell, the only people downsizing are those who are forced into it.

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  8. DrShort

    Nice chart. Since you’re taking requests, I’d love to see this using the 75th percentile of income rather than the 50th. The bottom 25% of income earners are not in the real estate market and can skew the results.

    This chart shows the median, top 20%, and top 5% of incomes for various WA counties. Notice that the median for King and Snohomish counties are pretty close, but the income of the top 20% in King County is about 1/3 higher. The top 5% is 50% higher in King County.

    http://www.b-sustainable.org/social-environment/income-distribution/Gini%20Coefficients%20by%20County.jpg

    Here’ similar info by city:

    http://www.b-sustainable.org/social-environment/income-distribution/Gini%20Coefficients%20by%20City.png

    It’s the top 1/3rd of incomes which seem to dictate housing prices, not the median.

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  9. Herman

    By rational @ 8:

    I’ll believe the “attitudes are changing” meme when I see people paying at least 50% down

    What I learned from this recession is that in uncertain times, you should pay as little down as humanly possible. It’s like letting the bank pay for a super-version of home insurance. If the house burns down, falls in an earthquake, or even plummets in value, you can just walk and let the bank pay for it. Not much down means not much skin in the game.

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  10. Herman

    By Interloper @ 5:

    It may well *indicate* the bottom.

    I still think we can’t even discuss a bottom without agreeing on a definition of one. My definition is that a bottom = a point that is not more than 5% higher than the ensuing 7 years of median prices.

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  11. drshort

    By The Tim @ 10:

    RE: DrShort @ 9 – If you know of a place where I can find that breakdown of data on a yearly basis from the early ’90s through at least 2009, I’d love to put together another version of the chart. Unfortunately a single data point from 2006 doesn’t really do me much good.

    Yeah, I’ve looked and haven’t been able to find a good dataset for it either.

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  12. Daniel

    By DrShort @ 9:

    Nice chart. Since you’re taking requests, I’d love to see this using the 75th percentile of income rather than the 50th. The bottom 25% of income earners are not in the real estate market and can skew the results.

    I would argue that effectively they are in the market: As renters. Their income will affect peoples decision to buy a secondary home as a rental. I would even argue that not considering them will skew the results and I would expect historic correlations to get worse.

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  13. rational

    By Herman @ 11:

    By rational @ 8:
    I’ll believe the “attitudes are changing” meme when I see people paying at least 50% down

    What I learned from this recession is that in uncertain times, you should pay as little down as humanly possible. It’s like letting the bank pay for a super-version of home insurance. If the house burns down, falls in an earthquake, or even plummets in value, you can just walk and let the bank pay for it. Not much down means not much skin in the game.

    You might start that way, but at some point you have enough equity in your home, right? And if you have savings to pay a big down payment, why not reduce your debt service and use the savings to buy insurance? You know you have to buy insurance even if you put little down, right?

    And then there is the question of how you can invest your savings to get a better return than the interest you are paying the bank. Ten years ago people thought it was easy to invest in the stock market and get a steady 10% annual return. Yeah right! People have to be savvy enough and know what to do with their savings. If they can do that, they can treat the mortgage as a strategic loan so they can use their savings to get higher returns in their business or other place where they can get a good return.

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  14. Civil Servant

    Hi Tim — What is your assumption as to down-payment percentage when you plug in your 28% vs. median house price? The people I know who were buying around 2000-2002 were putting down 20% or more, which as we know was not so much the case a few years later. So per #8 above, I am inclined to think that under the same down-payment assumption, for the last few years the Affordability benchmark is on the high side.

    I could be missing something here and hope that if I am, someone will point it out to me.

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  15. Jillayne

    Civil Servant,

    Even in 1999-2000, we were seeing people purchasing homes using 80/20 loans or putting minimum down.

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  16. kurt

    I love the little blue dot in the first graph. It has an astronomical feel, as though the blue dot is a tiny explorer spaceship (Galileo) coming up on something massive like Jupiter.

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  17. anonimaniac

    DrShort, you are delusional. Prices are still far too high and will come down at least another 25% if not more. Time to get out of the RE business. It is a broken model.

    The 20% down model is an impossible one for almost all buyers at this point. It will become the norm again when the average 3bd/2bath in Seattle is once again around or below $200K.

    Also, paying 25% – 30% of your income (net or gross) for a mortgage is, historically, ludicrous and bad for our consumer economy. People cannot afford to spend and keep our economy going with such high debt.

    Big changes coming. Look out below.

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  18. Leanne

    And if I read that chart correctly, as interest eventually go up that green line should head down a bit, too, requiring greater price falls to close the gap.

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  19. David Losh

    Really a couple of good charts. Now aren’t you glad you kept the name Seattle Bubble?

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  20. Basho

    Ignoring inflation, and assuming interest rates will not go down any further, the equilibrium price should be lower than the intersection of the two lines on that chart.

    Declines in asset prices have at least two effects which cause incomes to decline. First, people feel poorer and spend less as a result. In economics this is called the wealth effect. Reduced spending leads to unemployment/lower incomes. In addition, the labor supply increases as people who desire to maintain their bubble standard of living re-enter the work force, increase their hours, or delay their retirement. This tends to reduce wages. In addition it also reduces investment in the short-run as an older labor force (you may have noticed that the lower the age the higher the unemployment rate) requires less investment (they’ve already been doing the job).

    I would also say that a lot of the cheaper houses have serious deferred maintenance. So the true price you are paying can be higher than the one recorded at sale.

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  21. Dave0

    Awesome chart. Thanks Tim for compiling the data. Its interesting how right around 2004 the affordable home price flat-lined. I wonder what caused that change from a steady increase in affordability to effectively zero increase. Was it interest rates not falling anymore? Was it incomes not rising anymore? Maybe some combo of the two?

    Ironic how the affordability flat-lining happened right about the same time as prices sky-rocketing. Sounds like a perfect storm.

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  22. CCG

    RE: David Losh @ 22 – Heh really.

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  23. Dan

    Almost every bubble over-corrects on the way down. Even when affordability returns to historical averages, we probably still won’t have reached bottom.

    I would say we’re several years and another 20-30% from the true bottom.

    Another possible scenario is that instead of house prices falling, inflation will increase while housing prices remain flat. This should have the same effect, but probably with less overall misery.

    I’m reconciled to renting indefinitely.

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  24. Scott Weitz

    RE: Dan @ 25 -

    Mostly agree. I see inflation with global commodities as the dollar weakens over time, but there is no way real estate stays at current levels. The demand side of supply/demand is simply not there. We’ve already brought forward the demand via the stimulus, and most americans don’t qualify for the tighter lending standards.

    Unless we have a stimulus that gets in the hands of ‘middle america’, there is simply no saving the real estate market from significant further retracement as income and prices still do not match up. When all is said and one, I think we will have fallen at least 50% from the bubble highs.

    I have never been more concerned than I am right now as the govt stimulus has run its course, the people have been lied to, and now we face the reality of the situation. Plus, the stock market bull market has broken from a technical standpoint and I expect a significant pull back as we truly begin to unwind.

    Save your cash..the real deals come in 12-36 months.

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  25. LA Relo

    Great info. I’m still looking forward to the day when housing perma-bulls realize low home prices are the single most significant component of a low cost, high-standard of living.

    Unless incomes suddenly skyrocket there is simply no case for home prices shooting up, and I think this graph proves.

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  26. drshort

    By LA Relo @ 28:

    Unless incomes suddenly skyrocket there is simply no case for home prices shooting up, and I think this graph proves.

    Income inequality can cause home pricing to do things not supported by the median income like elevated prices in desirable areas, slums in suburbs. See Paris, San Fran, LA, etc..

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  27. Hangover Helper: Low Interest Rates Hit Seattle (May Newsletter) | Redfin Seattle Sweet Digs

    [...] The Seattle Bubble blog charts the local Case-Shiller data in elaborate detail. But our favorite Seattle Bubble chart is the one comparing what someone with a median income in Seattle can afford vs. actual home prices: [...]

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  28. Seattle Bubble • Most Popular Posts of 2010

    [...] Charting How Much Home the Median Income can Afford – 05/21, 30 comments, 4,536 views [...]

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  29. Seattle Bubble • Goldman: Seattle Home Prices to Fall 22% More by 2012

    [...] housing oversupply here at length in the past, and it does appear that homes are still somewhat overvalued compared to the historical fundamentals. I don’t have a PHD in finance, and I haven’t constructed a 6-variable model of home [...]

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