DC’s median home price, 3 times more than median family income in 1991, is now 5 times more

A measure of house affordability developed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) relates median family income to median house price. (All further mention of home prices and family income refer to their median numbers.) Before looking more closely at this index, however, we first describe what has happened to home prices and family incomes in DC over the past 25 years. (The home price includes both single family and condominium units.)

Home price and family income in DC. DC’s housing market changed fundamentally after the year 2000. During the 1990’s, home price and family income grew at the same pace. Then, from 2000 to 2006 home prices grew much more quickly than income. The median home price rose from $198,550 to $447,850 over those 6 years, a 125.6% gain, while median family income grew only 34.5%. With the Great Recession the home price fell by 25%, but this only brought prices partway back to the growth path of family income. In the recovery period since 2009, housing prices have modestly outpaced the growth in family income (36.8% compared to 26.3%). (For more details, see the table at the end of this post.)

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One way to summarize change in DC’s housing market is the ratio of median home price to median family income. The ratio was close to 3 in the 1990’s, and then shot up to about 7 in 2006.4, just before the onset of the recession. During the recession, the ratio did not fall to its previous low level, but only to about 5, where it has remained during the recovery period.

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The Affordability Index. As noted earlier, the National Association of Realtors’ Affordability Index compares median family income with the income needed to purchase a median-priced home. The income needed to afford the median house is calculated by assuming (1) 20% down, (2) a 30-year mortgage to finance the balance, and (3) household income at 4 times the amount needed to pay the mortgage. An index over 100 means median income exceeds the amount needed to purchase the median-priced single family or condominium home; an index less than 100 means income is less than what is needed. (An index of 110, for example, means that median family income is 110% of the amount needed to afford the median home.)

The Affordability Index for DC is estimated by Moody’s Analytics. The index was 115.1 for DC in 1991 and fell sharply as housing prices rose after 2000. The index has been close to 100 for most the 7 years since the recovery from the US recession began in 2009, and was 105.4 in the last quarter of 2016.

Given that DC’s median home price increased proportionately much more than family income over the past 25 years, it might seem surprising that the 2016 index of 105.5 is not that much lower than the 115.1 index in 1991. The reason these indices are so close is that interest rates for 30 year mortgages have fallen substantially over the past 25 years. In 1991, the rate was 9.3%; in 2016 it was less than half that—3.9%.

The way the Affordability Index works, a rise in mortgage interest rates, should this occur, would lower the Affordability Index. For example, if the interest rate were to rise by a percentage point (to 4.9%), DC’s index in the last quarter of 2016 would drop to about 95 if the median house price and median family income remained the same. It should be noted, however, that housing prices can also be affected by interest rates. Low interest rates also enable families to pay more for houses, helping to drive up prices. If rates rise and people can’t afford to borrow as much, prices cannot be bid up as high.

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Comparison with the US. In the US as a whole, housing prices and incomes were affected by developments that started in 2000, but the changes were less dramatic than in DC. Prices did not rise as sharply before the recession, and the spread between median home price and median family income never got as large. The result is that deterioration of housing affordability seen in DC has not occurred to nearly the same extent in the US.

  • The ratio of median home price to median family income in the US rose only to about 4 before the recession compared to 7 in DC. The ratio in the US has now fallen back to 3.3, compared to 5.1 in DC.
  • Just before the recession, the Affordability Index in the US was about 120, not too far below what it was in 1991, whereas DC’s fell to 58. The current index in the US (184) is more than 50 points above what it was in 1991, whereas DC’s is now about 10 points less than 1991.

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About this data. Data for median housing prices, median family incomes, and the Affordability Indices for DC and the US are from Moody’s Analytics. Quarterly data for the period from the first quarter of 1991 to the last quarter of 2016 have been used to calculate 12-month moving average values for the years 1991 to 2016. Similarly, quarterly data on the interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages has been used to calculate 12-month average rates. All index numbers have been calculated using the 12-month average value for the 4th quarter of 1991 as the base value of 100. The National Association of Realtors calculates the Affordability Index for the US and regions of the country. The values of the index for DC were calculated by Moody’s Analytics.

The following tables show values and percent changes over the 1991 to 2016 period for median home prices, and median family income for DC and the US , along with the Affordability Index and the ratio of median house price to median family income.

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Note: A version of this blog appeared in the May 2017 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends, issued by the D.C. Office of Revenue Analysis.

 

Single-family housing values in the District have risen much more over 25 years than in the metro area or the US

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) compiles a quarterly index of single-family house prices for the US, all states (including DC), and metropolitan areas. The index starts in 1991, and is based on how the same properties have changed in value since that time based on sales and refinancing obtained from mortgage and other data sources. (For more detail on the index see “about this data” at the end).

From 1991 to 2016, a 25 year period, DC’s four fold increase is almost twice the increase in the Washington metropolitan area and the US. Over the period, DC’s average annual rate of growth was 5.9%, compared to 3.4% for the metro area and 3.1% for the US.

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Price change patterns were fairly similar from 1991 to 2002, although DC and the metro area initially lagged the US in early 1990’s when DC’s economy was faltering.

When price growth started to pick up after 2002, DC’s increased faster. In the 14 years from 2002 to 2016, DC’s grew 147%, compared to 55% in the metro area and 36% in the US.

DC’s prices also fell less in the recession, and recovery from the recession was much faster. In the 10 years from 2006 (the prior peak) to 2016, DC’s prices gained 37.5%, the US was essentially flat (-1.4%) , and the metro area fell 16.3%.

Why have single-family house prices risen so much faster in DC than in the metropolitan area and the US? The explanation does not lie primarily in changes to general measures of income in the economy. Over the past 25 years DC’s rate of Personal Income growth has been the same as in the US and a bit less than in the metropolitan area. On a per household basis, DC’s income has increased a little faster, but the growth trajectory has still been fairly similar to that in the region and the national economy.

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The major differences between DC and both the region and the US lie in the dynamics of the housing markets that go beyond general measures of income. Since 2002 DC’s housing price index has increased at a much faster pace than average household income. By contrast, recovery in house prices from the recession has not yet been sufficiently strong to catch up with rising average household income in the either the Washington metropolitan area or the US.graph 4 may 1

 

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Housing market dynamics involve both supply and demand factors. Without trying to fully explain these, it should be noted that DC’s household growth since 2002 has been at a pace comparable to that in the Washington metropolitan area and faster than in the US as a whole. DC’s supply of single family housing, however, is relatively fixed. When growing demand from demographic change and rising incomes meets a relatively inelastic supply, prices can be expected to rise.

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The following table shows the changes in house prices and income from 1991 to 2002, and from 2002 to 2016, in DC, the Washington metropolitan area, and the US.

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About the data. The analysis of housing price in DC, the Washington metropolitan area, and the US is from the Expanded-Data Housing Price Index of single family house prices prepared quarterly by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). FHFA calculates the index from repeat sales and refinancing of the same single family properties. It is estimated using Enterprise (federal housing finance agencies), FHA, and real property recorder data licensed from DataQuick. Personal Income and average household income for DC, the Washington metropolitan area, and the US is from Moody’s Analytics.  A version of this blog is contained in the Office of Revenue Analysis publication District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends: April 2017.