California home prices hit record high in April

By Simon Avery, AP Business Writer
Friday June 07, 2002

Median home price jumps almost 30 percent compared to a year ago 


LOS ANGELES – With California home prices at a record high, housing affordability plummeted in April to 27 percent of households, down from 34 percent a year earlier, according to an industry report released Thursday. 

It’s now more than twice as difficult to afford a home in the state compared with the rest of the country, where on average 56 percent of households are able to own, according to the California Association of Realtors. 

“With the median price of a home jumping nearly 30 percent in April to $312,950 compared to a year ago, it’s no surprise that affordability posted a dramatic decline,” said Robert Bailey, the association’s president and the owner of three real estate offices in Santa Cruz. 

Low mortgage rates have not been enough to offset the increase in the cost of a single family home, he said. The affordability index in March was 29 percent of households. 

Choymae Huie is one of many Californians who regret not getting into the housing market last year, and said the only way to find affordable housing today may be to leave the state. 

The 57-year-old Alhambra resident held off buying a year ago because she didn’t feel she was getting enough value. With an inheritance from her mother and $20,000 in the stock market, she said she was prepared to pay up to $200,000 for a home. 

“Now I’m looking at prices again and I’m just shocked,” she said. “If I had bought a piece of property last year, I could have sold it for an extra $50,000 today.” 

Consumer anxiety about getting into the market before being priced out has been a major factor in rising prices, said Tom Lieser, senior economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast. 

Near record low mortgage interest rates are also fueling prices. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed rate mortgages was 6.66 percent at the end of May, the Realtors association said. 

Any rise in interest rates will bring an end to the market frenzy, but prices will likely remain relatively high, Lieser said. 

The cost of real estate will have long-term implications for the state economy in terms of California’s ability to attract people and businesses, he said. 

The low rate of housing affordability is also pushing up rental prices. 

“It’s driving my market,” said Seth Polen, a broker specializing in working class rentals for the real estate investment firm Marcus Millichap. 

In the last two years, the price of an affordable one-bedroom in Los Angeles has risen to about $700 from $550. Two-bedroom affordable rentals have risen to between $850 and $1,000, up from the $650-$750 range, with landlords offering very few concessions, he said. 

“Too many people don’t like their housing situation, but they can’t really afford to buy,” Polen said. 

The least affordable counties in April were Contra Costa, San Francisco and Marin. The most affordable counties were San Bernardino and Fresno, the California Association of Realtors said.