The housing market has strengthened considerably since the end of last year, and as a result, there is now an additional $860 billion in home equity nationwide, according to the latest Housing Scorecard released monthly by the Obama administration. As a consequence, sales of existing homes in the month of August reached the highest level seen in more than two years.
"As the September housing scorecard indicates, our housing market is showing important signs of recovery -- with homeowner equity at a four-year high and summer sales of existing homes at the strongest pace in two years," said Erika Poethig, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "The Administration's efforts to keep housing affordable and refinances strong are critical with so many households still struggling to make ends meet. That is why we continue to ask Congress to approve the President's refinancing proposal so that more homeowners can secure the help they need."
As a result of all the rising equity nationwide, which is now at the highest level since the third quarter of 2008, some 1.3 million homeowners are now back above water on their mortgages, the report said. In all, the number of underwater homeowners nationwide has dropped 11 percent since the end of 2011, falling to 10.8 million through the end of the second quarter from 12.1 million.
Meanwhile, efforts on the part of the federal government to aid those who are still underwater with their mortgages have been successful as well, the report said. The Making Home Affordable Program has had nearly 1.3 million homeowner assistance actions take place since its inception, and the Federal Housing Administration has extended some for loss mitigation or early delinquency interventions to another 1.4 million.
Similarly, the Home Affordable Modification Program has been helpful to more than a million consumers nationwide, reducing their mortgage payments by an average of $539 per month, allowing for a total of more than $15 billion in savings to date, the report said.
Experts say improving home prices and continued low rates on mortgages could encourage many consumers to enter the housing market for the first time in years within the next several months.
Housing Recovery Taking Hold, Government Survey Says
Home price as percentage of income: 152% Median home price: $99,000 Median family income: $65,300
Lansing is the first of five (six, if parts of the South Bend region are included) metropolitan areas located in Michigan to make this list. Home prices in the area are expected to rise by an average of 5.8 percent annually between 2012 and 2017, among the top third projected increases in the country. The median home price is just south of $99,000, or $60,000 less than the median home price in the United States.
Home price as percentage of family income: 152% Median home price: $108,000 Median family income: $70,900
The median home price in Appleton of $108,000 is higher than any metro area on this list, but it is still well below the U.S. median home price of $159,000. Home prices have consistently been cheap in the area for years. The median price between 2007 and 2012 only declined by 4.9 percent, far less than the national drop of 33.3 percent.
Home price as percentage of family income: 150% Median home price: $79,000 Median family income: $52,300
The median family income in Battle Creek of $52,300 is the 23rd lowest among all metro areas surveyed. But with home prices the third cheapest of all metro areas, buying a home is quite affordable. Home prices were relatively cheap before the economic downturn, too. Prices fell by 16.1 percent from their peak in the second quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2012, a far more modest decline than the nationwide home price drop of about 33 percent.
Home price as % of family income: 150% Median home price: $80,000 Median family income: $53,300
Homes in the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area are affordable, even for those with modest incomes. While median family income in the region is $9,600 lower than the national median income, median home prices are even lower — the fifth lowest in the country.
Home price as percentage of family income: 139% Median home price: $79,000 Median family income: $56,900
Memphis is the only metropolitan area on this list not located in the Midwest. While home prices of $79,000 are the third lowest of all metropolitan areas measured, home prices are expected to rise at an annual rate of 6 percent between 2012 and 2017, more than 2 percentage points more than the national median. Home prices are expected to rise 8.6 percent next year alone, one of the biggest growth rates in the country.
Home price as percentage of family income: 133% Median home price: $95,000 Median family income: $71,600
In the Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills metro area, the combined factors of high income and low home prices can make paying for a house easy. The median family income of $71,600 is the highest on this list and nearly $20,000 higher than the nearby Detroit metro. Furthermore, the median home price of $95,000, which has fallen 40.9 percent since it reached its peak in the second quarter of 2005, means that homes have become a bargain for those who can afford to buy one in this shaky economy.
Home price as percentage of family income: 132% Median home price: $80,000 Median family income: $60,000
Median home prices in Rockford are only expected to rise by 2.4 percent in 2013, less than the 5 percent price increase expected nationally. However, between 2012 and 2017, home prices are expected to grow at an annualized rate of 4.2 percent, besting the U.S. rate of 3.9 percent.
Home price as percentage of family income: 121% Median home price: $69,000 Median family income: $57,300
The median monthly mortgage payment for a house in South Bend is only 5.52 percent of the median monthly income. This is the only metro area in the United States, besides Detroit, where mortgage payments are less than 6 percent of median income.
Home price as percentage of family income: 79% Median home price: $41,000 Median family income: $51,900
While home prices were already cheap in Detroit before the housing downturn, they became even cheaper after. Home prices between the first quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2012 fell a whopping 53.7 percent, or 14.3 percent annually — the 10th-largest drop of all metro areas surveyed. With a median home price that is $28,000 lower than any other metro area reviewed, a median mortgage payment is only 3.6 percent of monthly income.