Home Affordability at Record High, Builders' Report Says

Recently released data suggests that borrowers could be looking at once-in-a-lifetime deals, as rock-bottom prices and record-low interest rates continue to create perfect storm buying conditions.

Numbers released by the National Association of Home Builders on Thursday indicate that home affordability has hit a 20-year high. The release agrees with a recent Department of Housing and Urban Development assessment that found that affordability is at a 41-year peak.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, 75.9 percent of homes sold were affordable to families who earn the national median income of $64,200; that's according to the Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. But even as consumers would seem to be poised to cash in on a market brimming with deals, rigid lending requirements continue to prevent many borrowers from capitalizing on the opportune conditions, the association says.

"While today's report indicates that homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades, overly restrictive lending conditions ... remain significant obstacles," Barry Rutenberg, who is chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, said in a statement.

The Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area of Ohio and Pennsylvania led all other regions under the terms of affordability that were measured by the index, with 95.1 percent of homes sold considered affordable by the association. Other top-ranking areas include Lakeland-Wintehaven, Fla., Modesto, Calif., Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa. and Toledo, Ohio.

Today's buyer's market probably won't fade anytime soon. With an investigation into illegal foreclosures recently settled between state attorneys general and the nations' five biggest servicers, foreclosures are likely to swell, experts say. And the rising tide of anticipated repossessions is likely to push down prices further, many experts say.

What's more, the Federal Reserve has said that it intends on keeping interest rates low for at least the next two years. Since mortgage rates ride on the agency's rates, they too are expected to continue to hover close to record lows.