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    The Road to Tyranny by Don Jans

    Mortgage costs lock out California home buyers

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    In summary

    California’s housing market is less affordable after mortgage interest rates drove up costs for many potential buyers last year.

    Back in 2021, when mortgage interest rates were plumbing all time-lows, Caitlyn O’Connell and her fiance nearly closed on a home in San Luis Obispo.

    They backed out of the deal after discovering major issues with mold, she said. Over the course of the next year, the cost of a typical mortgage payment in California increased by as much as 56% in some markets, according to housing data firm Zillow.

    O’Connell feared she and her now-husband were locked out of homeownership forever. This year they abandoned their search.

    “If we stay in California, we will have to be renters,” said O’Connell, who lives in Los Angeles’ Venice Beach neighborhood. “I don’t know, it really just feels like we’re stuck.”

    Tens of thousands of California first-time home buyers saw their homeownership ambitions fail last year as mortgage interest rates doubled after the Federal Reserve began its inflation-fighting campaign last summer.

    While the frenzied bidding wars that have defined parts of the state’s housing markets for more than a decade may have subsided, the monthly costs of a mortgage have left the state’s market more unaffordable than at any point in the last decade, particularly for lower- and middle-class families.

    In December, the state’s median home price dropped to $774,580, according to the California Association of Realtors, a 2.8% annual decline likely not significant enough to make a meaningful contribution to housing affordability.


    The prospect of higher monthly mortgage payments means many sellers can’t afford to trade-up, agents and economists said, resulting in too few economically priced homes. The situation is a considerable change from the last housing downturn, which began in 2007, when home foreclosures and other distressed sellers triggered big price declines and opened a rare affordability window that has long since slammed shut.

    These days California’s housing market is characterized by both high prices and much higher mortgage interest rates than buyers and sellers are accustomed to.

    “There’s this crisis of confidence,” said Selma Hepp, chief economist at housing data firm CoreLogic. “Sellers don’t want to give up the price that they thought they were going to get, or had in mind, and they also have locked in mortgage rates that are incredibly cheap.”

    Nine months into 2022, only 18% of households could afford the state’s median priced home, the California Association of Realtors reported. And the estimated minimum annual household income needed to buy a median priced home increased from $148,400 to $192,800 over that time period.

    “In 2023, it’s gonna be tough for first-time buyers, because of higher interest rates, because of tighter supply, and also because of the fact that there might be some uncertainty in the economy,” said Oscar Wei, deputy chief economist at the Realtors group.

    Wei estimated the increase in annual mortgage interest rates from 2021 to 2022 meant that more than 30,000 likely homebuyers in the state were cut out of the market, or needed to find a bigger down payment in order to afford a home. Orphe Divounguy, a senior economist with Zillow, estimated as many as 400,000 Californian renters who may have made enough income to qualify for a mortgage in 2021 were potentially locked out because of the increase in mortgage interest rates.

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