Buying a house has gotten so expensive that homebuyers need to make about $50,000 more than they did pre-pandemic to afford one

One of the few good things to happen during the pandemic was sub-3% mortgage rates, which allowed younger and lower-income buyers to break into the housing market. But that abruptly changed in 2022 and 2023 when mortgage rates and home prices skyrocketed—peaking at 8% in October 2023.

These factors led to an extremely strained market in which many homeowners clung to their current properties in fear of higher mortgage rates and fewer new buyers could afford to buy a home. Indeed, housing affordability has gotten so bad that prospective buyers need to make about $50,000 more now than pre-pandemic in order to “comfortably” afford a home, according to a Zillow report released Thursday. And affording a home goes beyond monthly mortgage payments, experts agree.

“Comfortably affording a home in today’s market means having the financial capacity to cover mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, and other associated costs without significant financial strain,” Stacy Brown, director of technical training at Real Property Management, tells Fortune. Considering “the fact that the boomer generation is staying in their homes rather than moving to retirement communities, as well as those who moved to the suburbs during the pandemic [choosing to work] remotely—comfortable home ownership is out of reach for many.”

Now, buyers need to make on average $106,000 to afford a home, which is 80% more than January 2020, Zillow says. Monthly mortgage payments on a “typical home,” which Zillow defines as costing $343,000, have nearly doubled in that time frame to $2,188, assuming a 10% down payment. And while mortgage rates and home prices are the main culprits behind today’s housing affordability challenges, there are other factors that make buying a home more costly.

Mortgage rates and home prices don’t tell the whole story

Since January 2020, home values have jumped nearly 43%, according to Zillow. In 2023 alone, home prices increased nearly 6%, according to the Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (a real estate industry standard measure). Meanwhile, mortgage rates ended January 2020 at about 3.5%, half of today’s 30-year fixed mortgage rate of 7.1%, according to Mortgage News Daily.

While looking at mortgage rates and home prices alone is dire enough, wages also haven’t kept up with the demands of a home purchase. A household earning a $59,000 salary in 2020 could comfortably afford the monthly mortgage, meaning they wouldn’t spend more than 30% of their income with a 10% down payment, according to Zillow. That was below the U.S. median income at the time, which clocked in at about $66,000, “meaning more than half of American households had the financial means to afford homeownership,” Anushna Prakash, a Zillow economic analyst, wrote in the report.

“A significant portion of Americans struggle to afford homeownership, especially in younger age groups and individuals with lower incomes,” Jaclyn Anastasakos, a real estate agent with Luxe Properties in Miami, tells Fortune. “The gap between income levels and housing costs has widened, making it harder for many to achieve the dream of owning a home.”

Now, the U.S. median income is $81,000, according to Zillow, but prospective homeowners need more than $106,000 to “comfortably” purchase a home. That means that wages haven’t kept pace with home prices, mortgage rates, and other costs associated with buying a house in the U.S. Filippo Incorvaia, owner and broker at Miami-based FI Real Estate, says housing affordability “feels the most intense” since he started his career 20 years ago.

“Six figure incomes are essential to affording a home today,” Incorvaia tells Fortune. “This usually means both partners are typically working and contributing, and you could still be strained financially. Meanwhile, purchasing a property alone is more challenging than ever.”

And certain housing markets—particularly large metropolitan areas—that have high demand and limited supply “may require an even higher income to afford a home,” Brown says. 

“Even in areas that have typically been affordable, those neighborhoods considered affluent or renovated continue to command higher home prices,” Brown says. “Couple that with major employers moving operations to states with more favorable taxes or other incentives, [and] many areas that were considered affordable are quickly becoming out of reach for many.”

House hacking

Incorvaia finds that many people in their 20s are “delaying the dream of homeownership entirely” because housing affordability has gotten so strained. The majority of his first-time homebuyers are professionals in their 30s and 40s who have been focused on their career while renting and saving for a down payment. 

With fewer individuals—and even couples—able to purchase a home, many Gen Zers and millennials have turned to “house hacking,” or co-buying with friends or family. They then rent out all or part of these properties in order to generate extra income. Zillow reports that 21% of last year’s buyers did this. While this might seem like a good idea in the interim as mortgage payments stay high, house hacking has its downsides.

“House hacking is a real phenomenon,” Incorvaia says. “Friends and multiple couples choose to purchase a property together to reduce costs, but this also reduces equity and may not be the most viable long term solution.”

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