A California real estate consulting company keeps a "housing cycle barometer" as a way to judge whether markets are overpriced, at least compared with their own history. John Burns Real Estate Consulting's index tracks income, home prices and mortgage rates from 1981 onward and assigns metro areas a number from 0 to 10 each month. Zero means it's the cheapest time to buy in that 26-year span. Ten is the most expensive.
Guess where Baltimore stands ...
Yes: It hit 10 in June. The area has since fallen to 9.6 in July, mainly because mortgage rates improved a bit, the company said. That ranks the Baltimore area 5th highest among the 169 metros the company tracks. (First through fourth are Santa Barbara, Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland.)
That doesn't mean our housing costs relative to income are among the worst in the nation. For that measure, the area ranks 57th.
Still, locals have to spend a lot: A single worker would have to shell out 42 percent of before-tax income, according to the barometer's measure. It calculates annual housing costs in this way: payments on the mortgage, assuming a buyer put 20 percent down, plus one-seventh of that down payment. The company says it does so because the average person remains in a house about seven years, and it wants to account for the cost of the down payment.
The 20 percent down payment alone would require the average buyer to save nearly a full year's pay -- again, before taxes.
Steve Dutra, a vice president with John Burns Real Estate Consulting, says the last time Baltimore area housing costs were close to the 40 percent mark was in 1982. Then, he said, "you had 16 to 17 percent mortgage rates."