4 Signs a Property is Worth Investing in

A real estate investment is only as good as the property you invest in. Make the wrong purchasing decision, and you’ll have a much tougher time making a decent profit than you would if you had bought into a better property.

The question is, how do you know if a specific property is worth parking your money in?

If it has the following traits, then you’ve got a winner.

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1. It’s Located in a Growing Area

You might have found a fabulous deal on a great property, but have you paid attention to the area it’s in? The last thing you want to do is sink your money in an area that’s stagnant in growth, or even heading down the tubes.

Check out the local market, and see if you can find any news about new jobs coming up on the market. Research the current status of the local economy. Look for new companies opening up, and lots of new residential and commercial construction. See if there is an increase in the number of homes being renovated or even completely rebuilt, and newly landscaped yards. Find out if there are currently any plans for expanding infrastructure (new roadways and public transit lines). 

You can easily find out valuable information by visiting local government websites. Look for census information, such as population, household income, number of schools, number of children, and so on. Information like this will tell you what direction the neighborhood is headed in. If the area appears to be stable or growing, you’ve got a good contender.

2. The Vacancy Rate is Low

If you’re planning on renting out your unit for the long haul, you want to make sure that the vacancy rate is low. The last thing you want is to continuously advertise your unit for rent and screen potential tenants. You also don’t want to have your unit vacant all the time between tenants. That’s as good as money lost.

Ideally, the vacancy rate should be no more than 5%. Making sure that the property has a low or dropping vacancy rate is crucial to keep your place rented out, as well as make sure you have a healthy cash flow.

You could be collecting a hefty rent, but if the vacancy rate is 20%, that will seriously eat into your profits. Too many months out of the year with no tenant and no rent checks coming in is bad for business. At the end of the day, you want to buy an investment property in an area where demand for rental units is high. That way, the vacancy rate will be lower and the rent rates will be higher.

3. It Makes Money For You Right Off the Bat

Don’t approach a potential investment deal with the idea that the place will make money for you eventually. Basically, the income you generate should cover all of your up-front costs.

A good rule of thumb is to look for a property in which 10 months’ worth of rent can easily cover your mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, and all other expenses. Similarly, make sure that the monthly rental rate you can charge is at least 2% of the entire purchase price of the property. Look at what comparable units are charging for rent to see what you would realistically be able to charge, and crunch the numbers from there.

4. Desirable Amenities Are Nearby

While looking at the numbers in-depth is critical to ensure a property will make money for you, don’t forget to have a look at the surrounding amenities. Understand what’s happening in the neighborhood, which will give you an idea of the type of tenant that would be attracted to it.

A property located near a highly-rated elementary school, for instance, would more likely draw young families that are looking to plant some roots, which would point to a low turnover rate.

Areas close to public transportation, shops and eateries would likely attract millennials, who are more likely to favor areas that have a high walkability score.

Look at the type of shops and eateries that are in the neighborhood. Odds are the area is a solid one if there’s a Trader Joe’s, Starbucks or Whole Foods in it. High-end chains like these spend a lot of money scouting out up-and-coming neighborhoods with residents who have the financial means to support their shops. That have even been studies done that show a positive relationship between the existence of stores like these and property values.

Getting out of an investment property is not only a hassle, it’s downright expensive. Make sure the right decision is made before you sign on the dotted line so your real estate investment is a profitable and headache-free one.

Low Down Payment Options to Consider

Owning a home no longer has to remain a dream for any Americans, thanks to the changes that have taken place in the mortgage lending realm over the recent past.

Coming up with a decent-sized down payment has long been a thorn in the side of would-be homebuyers. But these days, there are plenty of low down payment options available that can help turn the dream of homeownership into reality.

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Changes to FHA- Loans Makes Homeownership More Realistic For Many

FHA home loans – the backed by the Federal Housing Administration – have recently undergone major changes. The government agency already offers ultra-low down payment options as low as 3.5 percent, but the fact that it has slashed 0.5 percent off its mortgage insurance costs makes this option even more affordable.

The mortgage insurance fee that needs to be paid is designed to protect the lender against potential defaults on mortgages. Lenders are the ones who actually issue these loans – the FHA simply insures them. Borrowers pay this mortgage insurance fee on top of monthly mortgage payments.

This insurance fee changes from time to time, depending on the strength of the housing market and consumer credit. During the financial crisis of 2008, there were millions of mortgage defaults and foreclosures, which kept the insurance fee up. FHA mortgages increased in popularity at that time, and an increasing number of home loans weren’t getting paid back.

Such a dire situation lead to a number of losses that prompted the FHA to hike up its mortgage insurance fees. In 2010, it was 0.55 percent of home loan amounts, then by 2013, it spiked to 1.35 percent.

Since then, the housing market in the US has stabilized. In response, the FHA slashed its insurance fee to 0.85 percent or 30-year fixed home loans up to $417,000 with a 3.5 percent down payment.

This fee fluctuates because the FHA needs to make sure that it has enough money in its insurance pot to cover mortgages that might default and never be paid back. With the market increasingly showing signs of strength, the FHA has felt comfortable enough to cut back on its mortgage insurance fees, making home loans more affordable for homebuyers.

However, it should also be noted that there are other components to FHA loans that must be considered when budgeting for a home loan. For starters, 1.75 percent of your loan amount will need to be paid up front, either in one lump sum or added to the monthly loan amount. In addition, you won’t be able to write off your annual mortgage insurance fees come tax time.

Lower Down Payment Options Through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

FHA-backed home loans aren’t the only option when it comes to taking advantage of low down payments. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have also started offering home loans that require a mere 3 percent down payment.

Fannie Mae’s Home Ready program allows borrowers with credit scores as low as 620 to get approved for home loans requiring only 3 percent down. One unique trait of this program is that it has a provision developed specifically for extended families. Lenders can look at income from non-borrower family members when it comes to qualifying for a home loan.

Freddie Mac’s Home Possible Advantage program is similar, but credit requirements are a bit higher, with a 660 minimum score. Unlike the Fannie Mae program, all borrowers need to physically occupy the home.

These conventional home loans require private mortgage insurance (PMI), which costs about 1.05 percent each year (paid monthly) for 30-year fixed loans up to $417,000 with a 3 percent down payment. No initial up-front fee is necessary, and the insurance fee can be eliminated in as little as two years once less than an 80 percent loan-to-value ratio is achieved.

Zero Down Payment Options

As if 3 percent wasn’t low enough, how about zero down payment options?

They actually exist, but their qualification requirements are pretty specific.

Take VA loans, for instance, which are backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA guarantees mortgages for purchases (not refinancing) without any required down payment for qualified veterans, active-duty members, and specific National Guard and Reserves members. No mortgage insurance is required, but borrowers must pay a funding fee, which can range between 2.15 and 2.4 percent, and may be rolled into the mortgage amount.

The USDA’s Rural Development home loan guarantee program also offers no down payment options for qualified buyers who purchase properties in specific areas that the government deems to require development. The USDA has maps that highlight eligible areas for these no-down payment options. No mortgage insurance is necessary, but a 2 percent up-front guarantee fee is charged, along with an annual guarantee fee of 0.5 percent of the loan balance.

Navy Federal Credit Union also offers 100 percent financing to qualified members who purchase primary residences. Navy Federal eligibility is limited only to members of the military, certain qualified civilian employees of the military and US Department of Defense, and family members. The funding fee for this home loan option is 1.75 percent.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of home loan options out there that don’t require a massive down payment to secure a mortgage, as long as you qualify. Coming up with a sizeable down payment shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent to homeownership. However, it’s important to weigh the options and risks associated with carrying a hefty outstanding loan balance, especially when considering the value of your home. Make sure you speak with a seasoned mortgage broker to help you determine if your financials can support the mortgage you sign up for.

4 Ways to Keep the Value of Your Investment Condo Up

Buying and renting out real estate is a tried-and-true way to develop wealth over time. Not only can you build equity in the property simply through appreciation over time, the rent collected can cover the carrying costs.

While there are a number of different types of properties that can be rented out for investment purposes, many investors look to condos. They’re typically cheaper to buy compared to single-unit dwellings, and are virtually maintenance-free. With property management on site to handle the day-to-day maintenance of the common areas of condominium buildings, all the grass cutting, snow removal, landscaping, and other tasks are handled for you.

But in order to make sure that your investment pans out over the long term, it’s important to take steps to protect the value of your investment condo. Here are a few tips to help ensure your investment goes according to plan.

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1. Maintain Regular Communication With the Condo Board

Even though you don’t live in the building, you still want to make sure that the condominium remains a safe and positive place for residents. The condo board has a direct influence on this; these individuals make decisions that affect the well-being of the building. What they choose to do can literally affect the value of the building as a whole, and even impact your profits.

Is the board adding necessary amenities? Are they promptly dealing with issues that residents have been complaining about? Are they increasing the condo fees unnecessarily? Issues such as these can impact the value of the condo, as well as your profit margins.

Since you’re an owner, you have the right to vote for those who have been nominated for a seat on the condo board. If you so choose, you also have a right to take one of these seats yourself, as long as you’re voted in. Understanding the health of the building and its corporation can give you important insight into whether or not the condo remains a solid investment, or whether you should bail out and park your capital elsewhere. 

2. Visit the Condo Frequently

Unless your tenant calls you regularly to update you on the daily occurrences in the building, you’ll want to get a first-hand glimpse of the state of the complex yourself. When you visit the condo to pick up your rent check or any mail, take an extra few minutes to walk around the building, identify any possible issues that should be rectified, and ask your tenant if there is anything that should be looked into, regardless of how minor you might think they are.

Rather than depending on other owners to communicate their concerns to the condo board or property management team, you can do this yourself. At least you’ll have first-hand knowledge of what’s happening in the building, and can follow up with the board on your own to make sure any issues you’ve witnessed are being handled properly.

3. Collaborate With Your Tenants

It goes without saying that tenants can make or break your investment. A good tenant is critical to ensuring that your long-term investment is a fruitful one; on the other hand, a bad tenant can cause you nothing but headaches, and can severely affect your profits.

After you’ve thoroughly screened your tenants, established an open, honest relationship with them. Collaborate with them and make it known that they are essentially a part of your investment “team.” No matter how temporary their home will be, most tenants appreciate the opportunity to take pride in their home.

Let your tenants know that you will do everything possible to make sure the property is well-maintained and continues to be a great place to live. Make them understand that they play an important role in this, and encourage them to report issues the moment they’re noticed. Cultivate a positive and respectful landlord-tenant relationship that’s based on honesty and co-operation.

4. Be Smart With Your Rent

You can’t just arbitrarily pick any random rent amount to charge your tenants. Obviously, the more you can charge, the better for your bottom line. But the reality is, you need to stick to a certain range that the building and the neighborhood dictate. If other similar units in the building are going for $1,000 per month, for instance, there’s little justification to ask prospective tenants for $1,500.

Before you even consider buying a condo unit, make are that the rent you can realistically charge will adequately cover all carrying costs. Understanding current market rates in the area is critical when it comes to establishing the appropriate rent for your unit.

You’ll need to determine how the rent you plan to charge will work to cover your mortgage, maintenance fees, taxes, repairs, and other expenses. Keep in mind that you’ll have to declare your rental income come tax time, so make sure you’re saving up so you’ll have enough to pay Uncle Sam every year.

The Bottom Line

Having a clear objective about what you want out of your investment is critical to making sure the decisions you make are the right ones. Maintaining the value of your investment is essential to ensuring you get the most bang for your investment buck. Be present, be vigilant, and be smart about how you handle the property, your tenants, and your capital.

5 Signs of a Shady Landlord

Depending on where you live, you might find it tough to land a great rental unit that fits within your budget and meets all your needs. But even when you find a place that’s located in an awesome location and seems like an affordable deal, it can be a total nightmare if you wind up stuck with a terrible landlord. Sure, many landlords are awesome, but some are not. In fact, some are downright shady, and even break the law when it comes to screening renters and dealing with them on a regular basis.

To avoid having to deal with a shady landlord, make sure you look out for the following signs before you sign a lease.

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1. The Landlord Ignores Major Issues

While scoping out an apartment to rent, make sure you have your eyes peeled for certain issues that could wind up being a big problem after you move in. If you notice very weak water flow in the shower, signs of pests, and a faulty door lock, you’ll want to bring these issues up with the landlord and ask if anything will be done about them before you move in.

You’re absolutely entitled to be informed about any issues that seem off. If that information is not readily communicated to you, or the landlord seems to be brushing them off with a “don’t worry about it” type of answer, take that as a red flag and move on.

2. The Landlord Asks to Be Paid in Cash

Asking for rent to be paid in cash likely means the landlord doesn’t want any paper trails of the transaction. And if this request for cash is accompanied by the lack of a lease, then you’ve got double trouble. A lease stipulates your legal rights as a tenant. It protects you against illegal rent hikes, unnecessary fees and charges, and the right to quiet enjoyment of the property. Without a lease in place, you aren’t technically the resident of the unit in the eyes of the law. And if only cash is accepted as a form of rent payment, it could be a big sign that there is likely some illegal activity going on behind closed doors.

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3. The Exterior of the Property is in Shambles

The actual unit itself can be in tip-top shape and well-maintained. But if the rest of the building looks like it’s been neglected in comparison, this is a bad sign. Sure, you want the unit you’re renting to be immaculate, but the rest of the building or complex also contributes to the quality of life.

The landscaping, exterior, common elements, laundry room, parking lot, and other shared areas play a big role in how much you’ll be able to enjoy the property. Don’t be sucked into the appeal of the unit itself only to be stuck with a building that’s less than par.

4. The Landlord is Tough to Get a Hold of

If you’re already having a hard time getting in touch with the landlord before you even agree to move in, imagine how hard it’ll be once you’re actually tied to a lease. This can be a real problem, especially if there are pressing issues that you may have with your unit.

What if the A/C goes out on the hottest day of the year? What if you get locked out? Anything can go wrong, which can often require immediate attention. If the landlord doesn’t answer the phone, or doesn’t even offer a phone number at all, something’s up. If it takes days before the landlord returns your calls, don’t expect this behavior to cease once you’ve signed a lease.

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5. You Find Negative Comments Online

These days, nothing is hidden from the internet. You can literally find just about every answer you need simply by entering a search query in Google.

If the landlord or the property management company has bad reviews or has been linked to lawsuits or scandals in the past that are easily noted online, you might want to think twice before signing a rental agreement.

The Bottom Line

Don’t rush into a lease. Just because you fall in love with the first place you see, there’s still some homework to do. Be conscious of how the landlord behaves and how your questions are answered. Have a chat with other tenants if possible, and conduct an online search to see what type of information you can dig out. Once you sign a lease, you’re stuck for the duration of the agreement, so make sure you sign a contract only if you’re confident that the landlord has your best interests in mind.

Will Your Student Loan Affect Your Chances of Getting a Mortgage?

Still got massive student loan debt on the books? Join the 43 million other borrowers who do too. And among all the millennials who are still chipping away at their student loan debt, over one-third of them plan on buying a home within the next five years.

But with all that debt still to be paid off, is getting a mortgage and purchasing a property a futile endeavor?

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Student loan debt – just like any other type of debt – can be an obstacle to overcome when it comes to getting approved for a mortgage.  But while the situation isn’t exactly ideal, it’s less dreadful than many millennials might think.

Understanding how student loan debt can affect lenders’ decisions will help you determine the likelihood of getting approved for a mortgage, and what type of interest rate you can expect to be offered.

Monthly Payments Matter

Lenders look at a bunch of things when figuring out if you make a good candidate for a mortgage, including how much debt you’re currently carrying and how much it takes up your monthly income. This is referred to as your debt-to-income ratio – the percentage of your monthly gross income dedicated to paying off debt – which lenders look at before they consider approving you for a home loan.

If you’ve got a ton of outstanding student loan debt and your current salary isn’t very much just yet, your debt-to-income ratio won’t be the greatest. Lenders usually like to see a debt-to-income ratio of no more than 36, but each lender might have their own threshold that they may agree to work with.

Let’s say your gross monthly income is $5,000, and other monthly debt obligations – including your student debt – amounts to $2,000. That means your debt-to-income ratio is 40%, and that’s not including what it would be after adding a monthly mortgage payment on top of it.

If you find that you’re over the limit of what your lender deems acceptable, you can always choose to extend your repayment period to reduce your monthly payments. However, it’s important to note that it’ll take a lot longer to pay off your mortgage this way, not to mention the fact that you’ll be paying more in interest over the life of the mortgage.

Refinancing your private student loan to a longer loan term may also be an option. You might even find that you can lower your interest rate too by going this route. However, just like in the above scenario, you need to be prepared to accept a longer repayment term. Even if you’re able to negotiate a lower interest rate when refinancing, you’ll still likely be paying more towards overall interest by the time the loan is fully paid off.

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Deferring Your Loans Plays a Key Role

You’ll likely have the option to defer your student loan for a certain amount of time, depending on your lender. That means you temporarily won’t be obligated to make your regular monthly payments towards your student loan debt. Sometimes you might even be able to work something out where no interest is accrued despite the absence of payments.

Deferring your payments for a short period of time can be a great way to save you money for a sizeable down payment, which will work in your favor when mortgage lenders look over your credentials.

On the other hand, this option may have a negative effect on your application. Lenders will estimate what your monthly payments will be based on the amount of money you still owe on your student loan, but this estimate does not factor in how much your payments would be if you opted for an extended repayment plan, for instance.

It’s important that you fill your lender in on precisely how much you’ll be paying every month after the deferment period ends so that the most up-to-date and accurate data is used to grade your mortgage application.

Your Payment History is a Critical Factor

The amount of money that you owe in student loan debt – among other types of debt – as well as your income, are important factors that your lender will consider, but they are not the only ones. Your credit score also plays a critical role, and it’s heavily influenced by your history of making payments.

If you’ve been delinquent on payments, your credit score will plummet. In fact, even one missed payment can shave off as much as 100 points from your credit score.

Making your monthly payments on time and in full is essential to maintaining a healthy credit score. If you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel just to make your payments, then reducing your monthly payment amounts by extending your repayment period or consolidating your debt might help to bring your monthly payments down. That way, the amount you have to pay each month will fit more comfortably within your budget, and will help you stay on track with timely payments.

The Bottom Line

Student loan debt isn’t exactly something that mortgage lenders want to see on your books, but with millions of millennials looking to buy over the next five years, it’s something they’re becoming increasingly accustomed to. The fact of the matter is, student loan debt doesn’t mean you’ll be written off completely.

Your income and overall debt amount certainly count, but so does your proven ability to repay whatever loans you’re currently responsible for. Solid money management can go a long way in boosting the odds of your mortgage lender stamping “approved” on your loan application.

8 Things You Should Know About Living in a HOA Community

When you buy a condo, townhouse, or any other type of property in a planned development, you’re bound to the rules of the Homeowners’ Association (HOA). While you might have already known that rules existed when you bought, you likely never gave them a second thought, until there’s a problem.

It’s obviously important to know how much you have to pay in HOA fees to cover the cost of maintaining common areas of the building or community. But there’s a lot more to know about HOAs and how they work before you decide to make a purchase in one of these communities. 

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1. The Unit Needs to Be in Compliance With HOA Rules

HOA rules are to be followed by every unit owner in the building or complex. If a unit is non-compliant with the current rules, the HOA will step in. You’ll basically be inheriting problems if you buy into a property that’s already raised red flags with the HOA, which can give you nothing but headaches afterward. Before you make a purchase, find out what the rules are, and if the property is compliant.

For instance, a unit may have tile flooring on the balcony or a BBQ hooked up that the HOA strictly prohibits. If the unit is not currently compliant, determine what changes will need to be made before you seal the deal. 

2. HOAs Can Dictate How Your Landscaping is Maintained

If you live in a gated community or subdivision that’s governed by an HOA, you’ll have to abide by its landscaping rules. For instance, many HOAs don’t allow the use of pesticides and fertilizers on the grass, or they’ll limit the size of vegetable gardens. You might even be prohibited from installing solar panel systems or building compost. Make sure you identify any restrictions before making any buying decisions.

3. You Need to Make Sure You Can Tolerate Stringent Rules

What is your personality like? Are you the type of person who isn’t fond of being told how you can and can’t maintain your property? If so, you may want to rethink a particular HOA complex, or forego HOAs altogether.

One of the things that homeowners love about owning a home versus renting is the freedom they have to modify their properties. But HOA rules can have a huge impact on this liberty, depending on how strict the rules are.

4. Details About the Fees Should Be Identified

Everyone knows that along with HOA community living comes fees, but it’s up to you to find out exactly what these fees cover, aside from just the amount you need to pay each month. Find out how these fees are determined, and how often increases will occur.

Identify what the fees have historically been over the last few years to get an idea of what to expect as far as potential increases in the near future. And don’t forget to ask about the reserve fund, and if it’s capable of covering any major repairs that may be on the table.

5. Under-Management Can Be a Major Problem

Property management plays a critical role in HOA communities. They’re responsible for maintaining the property, dealing with problem residents, ensuring the HOA rules are followed by all unit owners, making repairs, and resolving owner complaints.

An under-managed property will have a team that is not present very often, and doesn’t seem to really care about the well-being of the property nor the concerns of the residents. Try to find out what the property management company is like, and see what current owners have to say about how they manage the property.   

6. Does the HOA Have Catastrophe Insurance on the Building?

This is a particularly important point if you are considering buying in a building or complex that’s located in an area that’s prone to natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, fires, or earthquakes.

Of course, freak disasters can happen just about anywhere, so it’s best to find out if the HOA you’re thinking about buying into has catastrophe insurance. If it doesn’t, and the complex is damaged as a result of a natural disaster, the HOA may go after the owners to pitch in to cover for repairs.

7. How Will the HOA Affect Your Finances?

The purchase price of the unit itself is one financial factor to consider when creating a budget, but you also need to understand how the monthly fees will affect your finances. It could very well be that high HOA fees could cost you a lot more than a freehold detached home that you think doesn’t fit into your budget.

8. Conflict on the Condo Board of Directors Can Be an Issue

The condo’s board of directors is made up of owners of the HOA. Ideally, all members should have the best interest of the complex and its owners in mind, and should get along. However, many boards are made up of owners who don’t see eye to eye, and are conflicted on just about every issue brought to the table.

Sometimes board members may have an agenda aside from running the building, including hiring companies that they have direct interest in just to put some money in their pocket. Other members may be on a power trip and don’t make decisions based on the good of the building.

Speak with the current owners to get a sense of what the current board is like, or have a chat with the members themselves. You may even want to become a member yourself after buying into the community so you can be more involved in making the community a better place.

Even though laws exist that govern how HOAs behave, these associations still have a lot of power over your homeowner rights. As such, you’d be well-advised to find out as much about the HOA before buying into the complex.

California’s Housing Affordability is Recovering

Finally, some relief is on the horizon for homebuyers in California.

According to the California Association of Realtors (CAR), 22 out of 29 counties in the Golden State experienced an improvement in housing affordability over the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same time last year, thanks to higher wages and a slight decrease in home prices.

CAR’s Traditional Housing Affordability Index (HAI) shows that 34% of buyers can now afford to purchase a median-priced home, compared to 30% during the first quarter of 2016.

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HAI measures the percent of households in the state that are able to afford to buy a median-priced, single-family house in California, and is considered to be the most important measure of housing affordability for buyers in the state.

Over the first quarter in 2016, the median price for an existing single-family home was $465,280. In order for buyers to afford this price point, they need to be earning at least $92,571 annually. Based on these prices, buyers would need to be able to comfortably afford monthly mortgage payments of $2,314, including taxes and insurance, and assuming a 20% down payment, and a 30-year, fixed-rate loan of 4.01%. 

Over the last quarter of 2015, an annual income of $96,790 was required for buyers to be able to afford the median home price of $483,810 using the same mortgage data.

Condos and townhouses are also becoming more affordable as of late. Compared to the fourth quarter of 2015, 41% of households were able to afford the median purchase price of $389,910 for condominiums or townhouses over the first quarter of 2016, an increase of 2%. In order to be able to afford monthly mortgage payments of $1,939, including taxes and insurance, buyers need to earn a minimum of $77,575 per year.

During the first quarter of 2016, the most affordable counties in the state were:

Kings – 58%

San Bernardino – 57%

Merced – 55%

Kern – 55%

The least affordable areas in California over the same quarter were:

San Francisco – 13%

San Mateo – 16%

Santa Cruz – 18%

There’s still a long way to go, as this marks the 12th consecutive quarter that the HAI has been under 40%, and is still somewhat near to the 2008 low level of 29%. The state’s housing affordability index reached a high of 56% in the 2012’s first quarter.