Local housing affordability drops for third straight quarter
by Patrick McCreless
Nov 19, 2013 | 2036 views |  0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Patrick Sullivan and his wife, Leigh, move into their Jacksonville home. Photo by Bill Wilson.
Patrick Sullivan and his wife, Leigh, move into their Jacksonville home. Photo by Bill Wilson.
With a new husband, Leigh Walker needed a new house.

Walker also wanted a good deal, and with home prices rising, she had to act quickly.

"Our real estate agent said it was a great time to buy because housing market prices were starting to go up," Walker said.

On Nov. 4, the couple closed on their one-story Jacksonville home.

"We got the house at a great deal," she said.

Housing is still affordable in Calhoun County compared to much of the rest of the state, but that cost gap has been shrinking. According to the Alabama Center for Real Estate, county housing affordability decreased more than 3 percent for the third quarter in a row this year. Some housing experts say rising prices, interest rates and demand are making area homes less affordable, indicating the housing market is steadily recovering from the Great Recession.

The center’s figures show the county had an affordability index of 281.8 in the third quarter of the year, a 3.03 percent decrease from the index of 290.6 the area had in the second quarter. The second-quarter index was a 3.13 percent decrease from the index of 300 the area had in the first quarter.

The affordability index is based on a point system — the higher the score, the more affordable the housing market. An index of 100 means a family earning the state's median income has just enough buying power to qualify for a loan on the state's median-priced, single-family home. The county's score means a family earning the state's median annual income of $53,100 has more than double the buying power necessary for a median-priced, single-family home.

"It's still historically, unbelievably affordable," Everett King of ERA King Real Estate said about the local housing market.

Alabama's average housing affordability index was 206.8 while the U.S. average was 162.8 in the third quarter of the year.

Walker said her mortgage payments are quite affordable.

"The rent at my last apartment cost just as much as my monthly house payment," she said.

King said demand for housing is driving up sales prices, which is good for the real estate market but also for homeowners.

"Now people can buy and get a little normal appreciation and get a more normal return on their investment," he said. "That's not what they were getting during the recession."

U.S. Census Bureau statistics released last week show Alabama's housing market improved significantly between 2010 and 2012 compared to 2007 through 2009, the worst period of the recession for the housing industry. For instance, the statistics show the median home value for Alabama was $123,400 during the post-recession period of 2010 through 2012, a 4 percent increase from the $118,700 value of 2007 through 2009.

"It supports what we've been seeing in state surveys of the Alabama housing market," Carolyn Trent, socio-economic analyst for the Alabama Center for Business and Economic Research, said of the Census Bureau data. "Everything we've noticed coming from them shows the housing market is improving."

King said ERA King Real Estate has sold 20 percent more houses so far this year than last. In addition to higher demand, rising interest rates and decreasing foreclosures have lowered the area's housing affordability index, King said. Foreclosures flooded the housing market during the height of the recession when many people lost their jobs and could not afford their mortgages.

According to the Calhoun County Probate Office, there were 74 foreclosures during the third quarter of the year, a decrease from 90 foreclosures in the second quarter.

Chuck Ward, an agent with Billy Isom Realty in Oxford, said he's seen significant improvement in the housing market in recent months.

"Demand has increased and sales have increased in the past few months," Ward said. "I think we've seen the bottom of the local market and that's a good sign."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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