From 2010 to 2020, middle-income households gained $2.1 trillion in housing wealth, according to a new study by the National Association of Realtors, released on Wednesday.
NAR’s Housing Wealth Gains for the Rising Middle-Class Markets study examined the distribution of housing wealth between 2010 and 2020 across income groups in 917 metropolitan and micropolitan areas.
The vast majority (71%) of the $8.2 trillion in housing wealth generated during this time period belonged to high-income households, while $296 billion, or 4%, was from low-income households.
During this 10-year period, nearly 980,000 middle-income households became homeowners and 529 of the 917 metro and micropolitan areas examined gained middle-income homeowners. NAR defined a middle-class homeowner as one earning an income of over 80% to 200% of the area median income.
The top 10 areas showing the largest increase in middle-class owner-occupied housing units in 2020 compared to 2010 were Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale (103,690), Austin-Round Rock (61,323), Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin (55,252), Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington (53,421), Houston-The Woodlands-Sugarland (52,716), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell (48,819), Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (35,063), Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro (34,373), Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue (31,284) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (28,979).
On the other side of the spectrum, New York-Newark-Jersey City (-100,214), Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim (-73,839), Chicago-Naperville-Elgin (-34,420), Boston-Cambridge-Newton (-28,953), Detroit-Warren-Dearborn (-25,405) and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington (-22,129), all saw a decrease in middle-income homeowner households over the past decade. Despite this decrease, some markets such as Los Angeles and New York, still saw housing wealth rise due to increasing home prices.
As of the fourth quarter of 2021, the largest price gains, as a percent of the purchase price over the last decade were in Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale (275.3%), Atlanta-Sandy Springs (274.7%), Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise (251.7%), Cape Coral-Fort Myers (233.9%) and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario (207.6%).
“Middle-income households in these growing markets have seen phenomenal gains in price appreciation,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. “Given the rapid migration and robust job growth in these areas, I expect these markets to continue to see impressive price gains.”
Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sales price rose at an annual pace of 8.3% from the fourth quarter of 2011 through the fourth quarter of 2021, according to NAR, and as of Q4 2021, the median single-family existing-home sales price rose by at least 10% in 67% of 183 metro areas tracked by NAR. This means that a homeowner who purchased a typical single-family existing home 10 years ago at the median sales price of $162,600 is likely to have accumulated $229,400 in housing wealth, with 86% of the wealth gain attributed to price appreciation.
“Owning a home continues to be a proven method for building long-term wealth,” Yun said in a statement. “Home values generally grow over time, so homeowners begin the wealth-building process as soon as they make a down payment and move to pay down their mortgage.”
Although home prices fell roughly 30% during the Great Recession, home prices have grown at such a rate that a homeowner who purchased a home just five years ago would have accumulated $146,200 in housing wealth. As mortgage rates continue to remain low and housing inventory continues to decrease, NAR reported double-digit increases in the median single-family existing-home sales price in nearly two-thirds of the 183 metro areas it tracked.
While rising housing prices benefit homeowner, if prices rise too high they become unaffordable and low- and middle-income households cannot share in the wealth creation arising from homeownership.
“These escalating home values were no doubt beneficial to homeowners and home sellers,” Yun said in a statement. “However, as these markets flourish, middle-income wage earners face increasingly difficult affordability issues and are regrettably being priced out of the home-buying process.”
While the number of middle-income homeowners increased over the decade, they made up a smaller fraction of homeowners in 2020 at 43%, down from 45.5% in 2010. In 2020, just 27.7% of homeowners were low-income homeowners, down from 38.1% 10 years prior. Meanwhile, the share of high-income homeowners rose from 16.4% in 2010 to 29.8% in 2020.
According to NAR the homeownership rate across income groups has declined since the Great Recession. The largest drop was seen in the middle-income homeownership rate, which fell from 78.1% to 69.7%
The low-income and high-income homeownership rates fell two percentage points and four percentage points, respectively.
“Now, we must focus on increasing access to safe, affordable housing and ensuring that more people can begin to amass and pass on the gains from homeownership,” NAR president Leslie Rouda Smith said in a statement.