By at least one measure, home prices continued to increase as recently as the final quarter of 2013. Data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) joins new information from research firm Case-Shiller that showed year-over-year improvement in the 20 large markets it covers. The housing recovery has been sustained, and perhaps has strengthened lately in most metro areas.
According to the latest NAR quarterly report:
The median existing single-family home price increased in 73 percent of measured markets, with 119 out of 164 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) showing gains based on closings in the fourth quarter compared with the fourth quarter of 2012. Forty-two areas, 26 percent, had double-digit increases, two were unchanged and 43 recorded lower median prices.
The most affordable homes are in areas where, for the most part, houses are inexpensive. The NAR’s definition of its Housing Affordability Index:
The index is calculated on the relationship between median home price, median family income and average effective mortgage interest rate. The higher the index, the stronger household purchasing power; record keeping began in 1970.
The NAR added:
Metro areas with the greatest housing affordability conditions in 2013 include Toledo, Ohio, with an index of 395.4; Rockford, Ill., at 374.5; Decatur, Ill., 343.7; Lansing-East Lansing, Mich., 331.4; and Springfield, Ill., at 327.8.
Unemployment and falling home prices were part of the housing situation in each of these markets as the Midwest industrial industries were nearly destroyed by the recession. It is probably not a coincidence that the same or similar markets had the lowest priced homes in the final quarter of last year:
The five lowest-cost metro areas were Toledo, Ohio, with a median single-family price of $80,500; Rockford, Ill., $81,400; Cumberland, Md., at $89,500; Elmira, N.Y., $99,500; and South Bend, Ind., with a median price of $101,100.
The national existing home median price for the entire United States was $196,900 in the final quarter of 2013.
The highest prices markets were centered in the regions in which employment and compensation have been bolstered by the tech industry:
The five most expensive housing markets in the fourth quarter were the San Jose, Calif., metro area, where the median existing single-family price was $775,000; San Francisco, $682,400; Honolulu, $670,800; Anaheim-Santa Ana, Calif., $666,300; and San Diego, where the median price was $476,800.
While the price gulf between the most and least expensive markets remains tremendous, at least many of the national markets, rich or poor, have improving home prices.