Sunday, June 10, 2012

What is a "middle-class house" in California?

Alex Lazo had a nice story in this morning's LA Times about the absence of housing supply in Southern California. One person he interviewed was frustrated because he could not find anything he wanted at $525,000. As he pointed out, he is a "middle-class" guy.

This underlines a problem with California. Even after the crash, large swaths of the state (not just Malibu) have expensive houses.

Let us think about what a middle-class household can afford. The median income for a family of four in California is about $70,000. Once upon a time (i.e., before around 2002), the "front-end" ratio for a mortgage borrower was supposed to be no more than 28 percent of gross income. The front-end ratio is the ratio of principal, interest, property taxes and insurance to gross income.  If one assumes that a borrower can get a 30-year mortgage at a 3.75% rate, pays 1.1% of property value in property taxes, and an insurance premium of 0.2% per year, AND assumes that the borrower has a 20 percent down payment, a household earning $70,000 per year can afford a $250,000 house.  So the value of a "middle-class" house is $250K.  This is a long way from $525,000.

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