Salary Requirements to Buy a House Vary Greatly Depending on Where You Look

Can you afford to buy a home?

It depends largely on where you live. The salary requirements to buy a house vary from an annual income of $208,813 in the most expensive US housing market to $18,411 in the cheapest. To give you some insight into how the salary requirements to buy a house might relate to your situation, LendingTree looked at a variety of possibilities, including:

  • The four largest cities in the US.
  • The four fastest-growing cities in the US.
  • The most and least expensive housing markets in the US.

Below is a description of this analysis, and the salary requirements to secure a mortgage in each case. Take a look and see how your income stacks up.

Calculating Salary Requirements to Buy a House

LendingTree started by referring to U.S. Census data to determine the four largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., and also the four metro areas of at least 500,000 people with the fastest percentage growth rate in recent years. The next step was to use data from the National Association of Realtors to determined the average home prices in those markets, as well as to find the most and least expensive housing markets in the U.S.

Using an assumption of a 10 percent down payment and a 4 percent mortgage rate, LendingTree ran the numbers through a loan payment calculator to determine monthly payments. Multiplying these payments by 12 yielded an annual figure, and an estimate of annual real estate taxes was added to this figure based on average real estate tax rates in each state, as reported by The Tax Foundation. Finally, using the popular rule of thumb that housing costs should represent 28 percent of gross income, the salary necessary to support the annual costs in each market was calculated.

Of course, there are other expenses involved in owning a home, and affordability is not just function of income but also depends on what other debts and assets you have. However, for the purpose of comparing affordability from one market to another, these figures represent the relative ease or difficulty of affording a home in the markets listed.

The Big Four

Here is a rundown of how home affordability looks in the nation's four largest metropolitan areas:

  1. New York City. With an average price of $410,400, the Big Apple requires a big income if you want to buy a home. LendingTree's methodology came up with a figure of $99,611 in pre-tax income.
  2. Los Angeles. Housing in LA is even more expensive than in New York, with an average cost of $445,200, but real estate tax rates are typically about half of what they are in New York. As a result, the income required to buy a house comes out to be a little lower than in New York, at $94,861.
  3. Chicago. Compared to New York and Los Angeles, housing in the Windy City is a bargain at an average cost of just $230,500, resulting in an annual salary requirement of $61,544.
  4. Houston. In general, the best housing bargains among the four largest cities are found in Houston, where the average home costs $221,100 and a salary of $55,718 should be sufficient to afford the payments on such a property.

The Fastest Growing

The following are home affordability figures for the four cities of 500,000 or more residents which have had the most percentage growth since 2010:

  1. Austin, TX. Texas has been a hotbed of population growth, and Austin leads the way in percentage terms among its major cities. You can expect growth to put upward pressure on real estate prices, and the average home in Austin now costs $271,600. A salary of $68,444 would be needed to afford the typical home.
  2. Denver, CO. Denver is a fast-growing area that already has an expensive real estate market. The average home there costs $362,900, which would require a salary of $74,733 to be affordable.
  3. Charlotte, NC. Despite its rapid growth, Charlotte still has reasonable housing prices with the average home costing $211,400. That could be affordable on an income of $45,346.
  4. Seattle, WA. Among the fast growers, Seattle has the most expensive housing market with an average price of $385,300, which would require a salary of $85,950 to be affordable.

The High and the Low

Finally, here is a look at the extremes represented by the U.S. housing market, in the form of the affordability of housing in the most and least expensive markets in the country.

  1. San Jose, CA. If you want to buy a house in San Jose, you had better have a great income. The average home price is pushing a million dollars, at $980,000, and would require an annual income of $208,813 to be affordable.
  2. Cumberland, MD. With an average home price of just $82,400, Cumberland has the least expensive housing in the country. According to the methodology used for this study, buying a home in that market could be supported with a salary of just $18,411. Admittedly, rules of thumb about affordability tend to break down at such low income levels because it takes a bigger portion of that income to afford the bare necessities. Still, in a market where mortgage payments are smaller than many people's car payments, owning a home is within reach of people with very modest incomes.

The huge differences in the salary requirements to buy a house from one area to another are important to keep in mind if you are weighing job opportunities in different parts of the country. One salary may look a little better than another, but when you look at it in terms of what it costs to buy a house in each market, you might be better off with a lower income but more affordable housing.

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