‘A deep freeze’: Mortgage rates and home prices are sidelining Philly homebuyers

Economists say that’s not likely to change for a few more years.

Rowhomes in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden neighborhood

File photo: Rowhomes in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The hits keep coming for homebuyers in the Philadelphia area.

Affording a typical home is more difficult than it was a year ago, according to a new report from residential real estate brokerage Redfin.

Data from August show residents in the Philadelphia metropolitan area must earn more than $75,000 a year to afford a median-priced home. That’s a 16% increase compared to the same time last year.

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The median sale price for the metro, which covers Philadelphia and Delaware counties, is $275,000.

Things are worse in the suburbs.

Affording a typical home in the Montgomery County metropolitan area now requires an annual income of $130,866, according to the report. That’s higher than the nationwide figure, representing a nearly 30% increase year-over-year in the metro, which includes Montgomery, Bucks, and Chester counties.

The metro’s median sale price was $479,900 in August.

The median sale price for a U.S. home was $420,000 that month, a total not far from the all-time high in mid-2022.

Nationwide, researchers found homebuyers must earn a record $114,627 a year to afford the median-price home. That’s 15% higher than a year ago, and about $40,000 more than the typical American household earns.

Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin, said surging mortgage rates are driving the upward swing. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage is now 8% — the highest level since mid-2000.

“It’s not so much that mortgage rates are the cause of unaffordability. It’s more that mortgage rates are the most recent reason,” said Fairweather.

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An inventory crisis is also sidelining homebuyers.

Many homeowners are staying put instead of selling, often because they cannot afford a higher mortgage. For example, a homeowner with a 3% mortgage rate could see his or her monthly payment more than double if they bought a new house right now.

Home prices remain above average as a result because there is more competition for houses that are on the market, making it even harder for first-time homebuyers to become homeowners.

“People are locked in. And that means there’s no home sales, no transactions, no inventory. The market is kind of in a deep freeze,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

In Philadelphia, home sales were down nearly 20% in September compared to the same time last year, according to Redfin.

“The move-up buyer is not moving up,” said veteran realtor Maria Quattrone, who owns RE/MAX@HOME.

And yet it could be worse. Economists say if mortgage rates drop, more homebuyers would likely enter the market, driving sale prices even higher as a result of increased competition.

Regardless, Fairweather said affording a typical home will remain challenging for at least the next few years, in part because not enough homes are being built to meet the demand.

“We have a huge hole when it comes to the supply of homes. So it’s going to take more than just one year of building. We need continued years of building,” said Fairweather.

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