A majority of metro areas experienced home price gains with very limited inventory growth in the third quarter of 2019, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors®.

Single-family median home prices increased year-over-year in 93% of measured markets in the third quarter, with 166 of 178 metropolitan statistical areas showing sales price gains. That is up from the 91% share in the second quarter of 2019. The national median existing single-family home price in the third quarter was $280,200, up 5.1% from the third quarter of 2018 ($266,500).

Lawrence Yun .
Lawrence Yun .

“Incremental price increases are to be expected, but the housing market has been seeing re-acceleration in home prices as more buyers want to take on lower interest rates in the midst of insufficient supply,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Unfortunately, income and wages are not rising as fast and will make it difficult to buy once rates rise.”

96 of 178 metro markets under study have price growth of 5% or higher. Ten metro areas experienced double-digit increases, including Montgomery, Ala. (12.6%); Spokane-Spokane Valley, Wash. (12.6%); and Salt Lake City, Utah (12%).

Yun, who has repeatedly called for more homes to be built, said some areas may finally receive at least moderate relief on that front. “In some markets, yes, we’re seeing construction companies ramp up plans to build more houses,” Yun said. “But in an overall comparison of 2019 and 2018, fewer homes have been built. So, hopefully home builders will expand their plans in order to better address the national inventory shortage.”

The metro areas where single-family median home prices declined included the high-cost areas of San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., (-4.6%), San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif., (-2.5%) and San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif., (-0.8%).

The five most expensive housing markets in the second quarter were the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., metro area, where the median existing single-family price was $1,240,000; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif., $964,000; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, Calif., $826,000; Urban Honolulu, Hawaii $813,500: and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale. Calif., $649,600. San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif., came in sixth at $645,000.

The five lowest-cost metro areas in the second quarter were Cumberland, Md.-W.VA, $105,300; Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., $106,800; Decatur, Ill., $107,900; Elmira, N.Y., $115,200; and Peoria, Ill., $123,600.

Even as prices rose, home affordability improved in 2019 Q3 compared to 2019 Q2 as a result of historically low mortgage rates. The national median price for single-family homes rose to $280,200 during the third quarter of 2019, but average monthly mortgage payments fell to $1,033. When viewed as a share of the estimated national median family income of $79,215, monthly mortgage payments fell to 15.6% (16.5% last quarter and 17.4% one year ago).

First-time home buyer affordability improved as well. The starter median home price in 2019 Q3 rose to $238,200, but the monthly mortgage payment decreased to $1,019, assuming a 10% down payment. First-time home buyers needed a lower level of income to afford a mortgage payment, at $48,912, compared to the qualifying income in the second quarter of 2019 ($50,976). “It is promising that first-time buyers needed a lower level of income to afford a mortgage payment,” Yun said.

In the most expensive metro areas in the West, San Jose home buyers would need an income of $221,185 to buy a home, while buyers in San Francisco would need $171,954; this assumes a 20% down payment on a median-priced home, ensuring mortgage payments are equivalent to no more than 25% of income.

At the end of 2019’s third quarter, 1.83 million existing homes were available for sale, which is 2.7% less than the total inventory at the end of 2018’s third quarter. Average supply during the third quarter of 2019 was 4.1 months – down from 4.3 months in the third quarter of 2018.