Hot Air Hisses Out Of Housing Bubble 2.0: Even Two Middle-Class Incomes Aren’t Enough Anymore To Buy A Median Home

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

As home prices have soared in cities around the country, sales have cratered. The weather has been blamed, though the weather has been gorgeous in California where sales have crashed too, even in temporary boom town San Francisco. The “lack of inventory” and other excuses have been dragged out as well. In reality, homes have gotten too expensive....

Even for hedge funds, private equity funds, REITs, and other forms of Big Money with access to the Fed’s limitless free juice. They’d become powerful buyers over the last two years, gobbling up vacant homes sight-unseen by the thousands, in order to get them off the closely watched for-sale list and shuffle them over to the ignored for-rent list, where they might languish undisturbed. The hope is that they might rent them out somehow and sell them later at a big fat profit, to the dumb money via a ridiculously hyped IPO. But now their business model has collapsed.

“Prices have gotten to the stage where we cannot buy a house, renovate it, rent it, and still make a reasonable return,” explained Peter Rose, a spokesman for Blackstone Group, a private equity giant whose real-estate division, Invitation Homes, has grown in two short years from nothing to the largest landlord in the country with 41,000 rental single-family houses to is name. “There was a moment in time where it made sense,” Rose said.

Not anymore. Blackstone already cut its purchases in California by 90% last year. It wasn’t alone. Another mega-buyer with access to nearly free money, Colony Capital, is doing the same thing. Oaktree Capital is trying to dump its portfolio of 500 homes before prices head south.

“Private capital made a lot of money early, and now they’re starting to pull back,” Dave Bragg, head of Residential Research at Green Street Advisors, told the LA Times. “Home prices are up significantly, and houses are definitely less attractive.”

With these mass-buyers out of the market, volumes have collapsed to a four-year low, according to Redfin, an electronic real-estate broker that covers 19 large metro areas around the country. Because, let’s face it, who can still afford to buy these homes?

Forget first-time buyers, the crux of a healthy housing market. In February, they only bought 28% of the homes, down from 30% a year earlier, down from the three-decade average of 40%, and down from the mid-40% range during good times. That hapless lot has been pushed out of the market a while ago.

And the middle-class household, supported by one earner? Teachers earning on average $69,300 in my beloved state of California, are facing a housing market where the median home lists for $485,000. With their salary, they can only afford a $260,000 home – or only 17.4% of the listed homes. Where exactly are all these high-income people who’re supposed to buy the remaining 82.6% of the homes? Sad fact: they don’t exist in those large numbers.

In the inland areas, teachers have a better chance for being able to buy a median home. But forget it in the coastal areas. My zany city of San Francisco topped the list: exactly 0% of the homes listed were within reach of a teacher’s salary [read.... California Housing Bubble: Now Even Teachers Can No Longer Afford To Buy A Home].

Turns out, even two middle-class incomes aren’t enough anymore for a median home in many cities around the country. Real wages that have stagnated for the last 25 years – thanks to that wondrous elixir of inflation – are now colliding with soaring home prices. Based on non-distressed homes listed on the Multiple Listing Service as of March 30, Redfin reports that in 40 large cities, only 10% of the homes are affordable on one median salary. It defined an affordable monthly payment as 28% or less of gross monthly income. And it found that “just 41% of homes currently for sale across 40 US cities are affordable for a family earning two median incomes.”

In San Francisco, where the median home lists for nearly $1 million, and in Santa Ana in Southern Cal, only 7% of the homes were within reach of a family with 2 median salaries. In San Diego 9%, in LA 12%, in Miami 19%, in Denver 23%, in Nassau (Long Island) 24%, in Austin 32%.

There are some cities where the fiasco is less pronounced. For example, in Atlanta a family with two middle-class incomes can afford 59% of the listed homes – but even there, who is going to buy the other 41% that are priced beyond the reach of two middle-class incomes?! The richest 1%? Or people who have to overextend themselves and become house-poor for years to come, assuming that another housing downturn, or a layoff, or an illness doesn’t wreck their homeowner status?

And where the heck are all the high-income people who will buy the median homes when investors, speculators, and PE firms that have become the largest landlords in the country are pulling up their stakes? There aren’t that many high-income people around, and they don’t like to live in median homes. Sales are already heading south. And last time this debacle happened, prices followed soon after. So this is going to be, let’s say, an interesting scenario.

And a direct consequence of the Fed’s policies that engineered an environment where Wall Street can borrow unlimited amounts for nearly free, buy all manner of assets, drive up prices, take huge risks that it then shuffles off at peak valuations to other entities, hopefully to the unsuspecting public via over-priced IPOs, toxic synthetic structured securities of the kind that blew up the banks during the financial crisis, and other shenanigans that end up getting stuffed into conservative-sounding funds that people buy for their retirement.

It starts here: evictions in San Francisco hit the highest level since 2001, when the dotcom bubble was disintegrating. Everything these days gets benchmarked against the last bubbles: the dotcom bubble that blew up in 2000, the housing bubble that blew up in 2007. Read.... Bay Area Home Sales Plunge To 2008 Levels, Prices Soar

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JMT's picture

Please!!!!!  The average 'middle class' middle class person has less than $2,000 cash on hand and 1/3 have $1000 (or less saved for retirement) why is this that they cannot afford a home (or even to rent one without roomates or border tenants) because they are blowing their money on designer clothes, $700 coats from REI, SUV's that have a total monthly payment (lease or 72 months financed ) & insurance payment that => their PiTi mortgage payment... Is it a lack of income or a complete lack of personal responsibility and and extrememely narcissistic, stuck up and entitled attitude (to the latest & greatest material items and to look down on those who don't own them) that is common these days??  Saving 20% to put down on a home?, cancelling the $250 a month cable TV + internet package and the $150 smartphone payment ?? the hororrs!!!!!!!!!!


the not so mighty maximiza's picture

They are fucked and don't know it yet, normally they would raise interest rates to make bigger debt slaves and lower the price of the house, but today , the .gov would go bankrupt with higher interest rates and on top of it , no one has jobs.

asa-vet52's picture

There's more to the residental RE market than Califoria. Why don't we hear about other parts of the country that are doing well?

highwaytoserfdom's picture

Calpers figured it out  TARP..   Hey the average default foreclosure has not Made a payment in almost three years....     Welfare realestate  lobby created a situation where the acceptance for a Wallmart job is lower than Harvard.

lordbyroniv's picture

Teachers make 69k


Holy shiat


Shoulda become a teacher  :(


who knew?

JMT's picture

$69,000 a year? is that Pre or Post tax??   that is barely enough for one person to survive on in California, the NYC metropolitan area or in New England..  Marriage should come first before opening up them meat curtains to pop kids out of so you aren't having to rely on child support payments or whatever the arrangement is between mother & baby daddy

Ann Oid's picture

What kind of a dick wad calls a woman's pussy a meat curtain?  Here's hoping your tiny dick shrivels up and falls off.


dreadnaught's picture

not really THAT much money living in $an Francisco-and then only 9 months of the year

Yohimbo's picture

The plans for serfdom are coming together nicely.  

Bringing the american workers worth equal

to the chinese workers worth

yes things are progressing nicely,

and not a sheep or wolf

see the grass being plucked out from under their feet. 

divergence is at hand,

and the great unwashed masses grow

and groan a greater sigh as the seconds tick faster

and the striving grows deeper and harder

for the things needed by compulsion

of a society of desperate and dirty clowns






novictim's picture

"Real wages that have stagnated for the last 25 years – thanks to that wondrous elixir of inflation..."

Blaming inflation for stagnant wages is really stupid.  

Who is the ass-clown that keeps writing these errors of economic theory into otherwise great stories?

BeetleBailey's picture

The whole RE market is off it's fuckin rocker.

I heard the same "the market is great" from the clueless RE agents and mortgage brokers in 2007...

Banzai motherfuckers...time to get clipped again....

tempo's picture

Long commute times are pushing housing prices higher near job centers. In So. CA. home prices in Riverside are about 1/2 the price of Orange County but you spend at least 2 hours/day longer in your car commuting. So what's 500 hours/year of prime time worth? When you face a long commute the quality of your life with family and friends suffer. And it gets worse every year.

IREN Colorado's picture

This article contains important concepts that everyone who invests in real estate should be familiar with. It should scare the he!! out of you too.


Thalamus's picture

Housing is way overpriced and the banks can't afford for them to drop--bummer.  Everyone should sell their home and rent and try to ride out this next economic collapse--plenty of warning.  

MontgomeryScott's picture

Study the Founding Fathers.

SHIT, I'll have to post that quote over HERE as well:

"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered."

There IS NO RECOVERY, and there WILL NOT BE a 'recovery'.

Oh, yeah, everyone sell everything. Get your fiat currency for what you have. Invest it, I suppose, in paper gold or the 'stock market'. You will 'ride it out'.

You are a hell of a bullshitter, there, 'Thalamus'.

We will OWN NOTHING, and never HAVE ANYTHING, ever again, at the current number rate. You are encouraging those who STILL HAVE something to GIVE IT UP for... WHAT? NOTES? INDENTURED SERVITUDE to an ever-decreasing PAPER value?


Sincerely, I mean this, you twat.

Thalamus's picture

Do you borrow money from these bankers you hate so much via a mortgage on your house? Buy physical gold and silver, and own your house outright--don't use bankers or buy paper gold.

cynicalskeptic's picture

Here in NYC burbs our local property taxes are higher than our mortgage payments (though, clarification, we bought at a market low 20 odd years back).  

Nonetheless, when your local taxes TRIPLE in two decades - with nothing close to a corresponding increase in services (truth is they're getting worse) - there are more factors than mortgage payments at work when it comes to housing affordability.  We liked this town because it had a realtively long term population, mixed in income and all else.  Unusual for around here, people's kids came back and bought when they had families.  That kind of continuity is unusual for the area.  But now, people from Manhattan are buying when their kids hit school age (private schools in NYC are expensive and the good ones are super competitive) but then are bailing after their kids leave school.   The real joke is that the schools aren't all that good but most of these parents are too busy to notice.   Administrative costs are a far bigger issue than teacher salaries - lots of people that nobody knows what they do collecting big salaries and benefits.   Even though the town employees do a good job compared to other places (like a neighbioring community where half of the retired cops are on full disability - what a SCAM), pension funding requirements are costly.  Market goes down, you have to make up the difference with increased payments in.   State aid for EVERYTHING has dropped - the local streets are horrid, but our lovely representatives are still bribing constituents with grants for things that government should have NOTHING to do with.

Schools need to focus on teaching - and forget costly turf fields (as if ANYONE here has gone on to athletic stardom anywhere).  The latter was voted down but the jock parents got funding through grants.  WTF?!.     Local gov needs to be real and cut down on fraud - and get more out of their employees.  Once upon a time you maybe could afford for town jobs to be a social welfare program for the otherwise unemployable locals but no more.  

But ultimately, local taxes are going up because Federal and State governments keep requiring more and more - while funding less and less.  

Aussiekiwi's picture

When I was young, back in the 80's, you had to save up to buy a computer,stereo,TV, decent fridge etc, they were expensive relative to what you earned, but things like water and electric bills etc, eg: usual living costs were affordable. The situation has reversed with computers TV's etc being dirt cheap relative to your income but we are getting strangled with rapidly increasing living costs, rates, electric,water etc and it is getting worse each year as these private companies demand an ever increasing profit to satisfy their share holders and peoples salaries not moving at all. I don't like where this is going, the day will come when people will be surrounded by all the latest electronic gadgets but will be scared to use them because they can't afford the power and people will not buy houses not just because the mortgage is too high but because they can't afford the upkeep.

blabam's picture

 "rapidly increasing living costs, rates, electric,water etc and it is getting worse each year as these private companies demand an ever increasing profit"


It's called inflation. The FED thanks you for the deflecting their evil doings to private companies providing a product or service. 

Ned Zeppelin's picture

Um, the single family rental concept never made any sense irrespective of the Fed's pernicious influence. Too much maintenance across too much geography. It was strictly a new story to sell to foolish wealthy investors, of which there is apparently an endless supply. It waxed and now, fittingly, has waned.

The effect of "buy to rent" hedge funds was very limited in scope and has not been a big factor in the housing market's relative resurgence. But the fundamental limiter to the housing market right now is the lack of first time buyers. If they can't buy, everyone up the food chain has trouble selling eventually.

Buy a house because you want to live your life in, or, yes, raise food and children. Not as an investment.

W.M. Worry's picture

Absolutely true. However, I have 3 houses on a beautiful 3 acre parcel in a small NW city all free and clear and I'm building another out of pocket right now. I'm 63 and have been working solo 7 days a week since the middle of Oct. when this one is done I'll have about 100K in it and I'll rent it out well below market for a very nice return. The house I built in 1995 has only had 4 tenants.  The current tenants (a dentist and a Social Worker) are heavy into gardening, Zen Buddism..........

Pemaquid's picture

That might work where you are but here in the NE two acres are needed per dwelling, with a minimum of 250 feet of road frontage. And, rentals are frowned on.

Lord Koos's picture

Something is terribly wrong when important members of the community cannot afford to live in the same communities they serve. Teachers, firefighters, etc.

PT's picture

The real shit starts happening when the police can't afford to buy a home.  Who they gonna be loyal to :  Their bosses?  The public?  Their families?  ( Keep an eye on the ones that try to play the game and do everything by the book and then get sacked / passed over for promotion anyway.  They might come in handy. )


Offthebeach's picture

No correlation between teachers and education. Although the do have the lowest SATs of any major save pre-NBA. No fires, just truck washing, noving and voting for higher teacher/cop pay at municipal elections.
Cops? Don't need'em. Guard yourself and your taxable stuff. Ir hire. Or make friends. Cops are welfare workers of security world. For losers.

cynicalskeptic's picture

There have always been 'wealthy' neighborhoods and 'poor' neighborhoods.  You lived where you could afford to live and aspired to do 'better'.    I grew up in a blue collar town sandwiched between two wealthy ones.  When I got married evebn with two college degrees, we couldn't even afford to live there so we lived in the Bronx for a while and SAVED.  Between us we worked 3 or 4 jobs for some time.  At the same time my HS classmates who WERE cops and firemen had no problems living where we grew up.  Eventually we moved out and even later we bought a place (at a low in the market) with 20% down and an 8+% mortgage in a 'good' neighborhood.  The place needed a ton of work and after thousands of hours of my labor I'm still not done.   This is a 'better' neighborhood - the place where my mother's boss lived (she was an executive secretary).   But we WORKED HARD to get here.

The reality is that we moved here ONLY when we could afford to do so.  I really don't remember my late 20's and early 30's - workign so hard it was a blur.  We WAITED to have kids as well.  

This town is fairly mixed - with cops and firemen and teachers living here but there are clearly more 'affordable' and less 'affordable' neighborhoods.  MANDATING that communities build 'affordable' housing - in a place that's been fully built for decades is a joke.   If you can't afford to live here, you can live in a less expensive neighborhood or move just over the town line and pay even less.  

You have a RIGHT to equal opportunity (though I concede that opportunity is fading of late) but you do not have a RIGHT to absolute 'equality' irrespective or your finances, education or accomplishments.  I could not afford to live next to some estate in Greenwich and would never even think of demanding some 'right' to do so.   But at the same time, many of those that lived in neighboring buildings when I was in the Bronx more than took advantage of tennant friendly regulations and were godawaful to live near.  One family (white, btw) had a history of renting houses, NEVER paying the rent - and stalling for YEARS until they could be evicted.  Others in neighboring buildings would dump trash out the windows - too lazy to walk it down to the basement.  I had to meet my wife at the subway station at night when she got home.   That sucked but such was life.  Frankly, I worked damn hard NOT to live where I used to live and do NOT want to repeat the experience.   

I have family living elsewhere in the country in varying locales.  If you want to live in a place where your neighbors have old cars on the front lawn, hat's YOUR choice, but not mine.  At the same time if you are willing to live somewhere where the local homeowners assoiciation dictates what colors you can paiint your cookie cutter McMansion, feel free, but that is not MY choice either.  You may be fine with neighbors who do burnouts in their driveways or let their bike idle (without a muffler - for 'safety's sake... BS, cough)  feel free, but I prefer having the OPPORTUNITY to live in a 'better' place if I can afford to do so.  

The alternative is government MANDATING and enforcing community behavior _ and I say 'government' because community 'pressure' does NOT work on reining in some of the worst behavior seen among the some.



Aussiekiwi's picture

I hear what your saying, but in the old days if you wanted to work hard you could and you could earn a decent wage compared to your living costs, we did not have much, and you payed cash for stuff when you could afford it. You could rely on a job for life with many companies which gave you the security to buy houses, and you could buy a house on one income, life was good in the old days.

But, now days most of the work is casual part time 29.5hours a week, pays crap and basic living costs are going through the roof and there is no way it is going to improve in the US as the US has sent its manufacturing base to China, and lets not forget education costs now days compared to the old days, young people are so screwed now days, 

El Hosel's picture
Two Middle-Class Incomes Aren’t Enough Anymore To Buy A Median Home. 
Dr. Sandi's picture

The only median home I can afford has a strip of freeway on either side of it.

Mercuryquicksilver's picture

Obviously they need to raise the "living wage" .... to a home "ownership wage"

The_Dude's picture

Yes...the union thugs must be protected/elevated above the debt-slave classes at all it for the children!

PoliticalRefugeefromCalif.'s picture

Perhaps the term "serve" is inappropriate.

- more like "bleed".

MontgomeryScott's picture

Locutus puts it rather well (in a 'predictive programming' sort of way), regarding those who do work for the State willingly in return for FEDSCRIP:

Who the fuck are the 'Borg'?

Think of them as the post/9/11 era  'War With Terror' HFT constructs, all rolled in to one. THEY are the NSA. They are the DHS. They are the new World Order. THEY are the ones who drone on about MH370, and tell you how well the 'markets' are doing. THEY are the ones sending you the 'pre-approved credit offers' in the mail. THEY tell you that getting a degree in 'social work' is good, but charge you a shitload of money (on credit) to do it. THEY tell you that being a paramilitary 'police officer' is a GOOD thing (but require that you take on student loan debt to get a bachelor's degree in Social Work; or a tour or 6 in Afghanistan, to 'qualify' for THEIR 'position'. THEY tell Congress that 'front-running' is NOT ILLEGAL. THEY tell you that Ron Paul was a 'nut-job', and 'unelectable', so you don't have the guts to cast your vote for him. You see THEM EVERY DAY, and listen to their music and talk, droning on endlessly. Hannity, Limbaugh, et'al...

OH, the 'PUBIC SERVANTS' can't even afford to 'buy' a 'home' (which they will NEVER OWN, as they have to PAY TAXES EVERY YEAR, or have their 'property' confiscated and SOLD AT TAX AUCTION). What a fucking JOKE! SERIOUSLY! My tears are rolling down my cheeks at the IRONY of this!

THEY are pushing JEB fucking BUSH to be the 'front-runner' for the '16 selection (and Billary, as the Demoncrat).

THEY ARE the FED, the ECB, the IRS, the BIS, the World bank,...

PUBIC servants, who are DELUDED in to thinking that they are 'doing God's work', like their master over at GS...


I went on a rant, here. You KNOW I'm correct, 100%, though.




spinone's picture

Sure, sales have cratered YOY from the highest level of home ownership EVER IN HISTORY.  This is a big bubble, and with govt meddling its going to take a long time to pop.

kurt's picture

Veronica? Archie? 

It's Richie Rich's Fault

I had to move into the van with Scooby Doo.

Now I'm just biding my time, waiting.

MontgomeryScott's picture

I knew a man, once.

He decided to drop a 440 in to a '73 Dodge Tradesman B-200 van, and it was already set up like a custom (with the interior, the shag carpet, the bubble windows in the back, a killer stereo, the paint, etcetera). He took it a step further, converting it to 4WD.

Quite a waste of money, you know. This vehicle probably didn't survive past the mid'80s.

He was trying to get laid, and his target girl was a friend of mine (whose father was a CHiP Seargant at the time). She wasn't impressed, though. Her name was Vicki.

Scooby is a short-haired dog, so I suppose your vacuum cleaner won't get clogged up very often. This album was popular around the time I describe, so be careful in the Mystery Van with Scooby.



Duc888's picture



What's this two income bullshit.  Suck it up folks, everyone should get 4 or 5 part time jobs, problem solved.


Phucking whiners.

Dr. Sandi's picture

4 jobs is enough unless you can make that 5th job 'mattress tester' or senator. People need their sleep.

Obnoxio's picture

I believe in doubling up or tripling up with room-mates or family to ride out the debt crisis. Taxes will continue to rise and energy costs will most likely rise as well. There is no more life-time employment in the private sector on which to base a 30 year mortgage in my opinion.

MontgomeryScott's picture

In one of the closets in my spare bedroom in the basement, I have an entire F.S.A. family domiciling.

Sometimes the smell of McDonald's hamburger flatulence becomes overwhelming, but it is tolerable for me (I don't live in the basement). I make them do my hydroponic gardening in return for an hour a day of cable, and they don't even see when I intercept their food stamp mailings and EBT deposits, and buy them MOAR McDonalds (the brats they sired shut up quickly when I give them their French Fries @tm). I never open the blinds, though, because I'm afraid they'll go blind, and try to eat each other (or kill each other, when they realize how fat and ugly they truly are). (sarc)

I paid my first house off in 2 and a half years. It was a 10-year note. SERIOUSLY.

If you can't find a job, then you don't deserve to fucking eat.

30-year-notes, and 'lifetime employment'; for WHO?

There is no more life-time employment in the private sector on which to base a 30 year mortgage in my opinion.

Let me know, and all of us, when your opinion doesn't resemble an asshole.

Dr. Bonzo's picture

Aaaaahh, that was so worth the price of admission. I just had tro go vomit up the leftovers from a The Diplomat article, but thank jeebus I found this little gem. Good shit man. Good shit. Thx.

Milestones's picture

Just occurred to me, this 3-D reproduction duplicates EXACTLY the two assets that the Guttenberg Press did in the 15th Century. Ability to duplicate  and repeatability of the process endlessly and do it economically.               Milestones       

elwind45's picture

Sell calls on stocks and buy 2x next higher strike

Milestones's picture

Interesting to see how the 3-D homes now being done in China and I think 1 here in U.S,fare. The first blush cost (Including interior furnishings) are being replicated for about $5,000 Dollars. Obviously this is not going to be the final $$$ but if it is anywhere in the ballpark, the SHIT is going to hit the fan. 

Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on. (One of my favorite Ramsey Lewis cuts)            Milestones

Dr. Sandi's picture

People keep forgetting that there is currently no 3D printing process available for the land to park it on. That can be a fairly formidable expense.

AdvancingTime's picture

I have owned an apartment complex for many years in the Midwest and we are currently experiencing the largest number of vacancies we have ever had. Many houses in the area are empty or under leased. In 2005 and 2006 prior to the housing collapse many people were looking at second homes, for investments or as a vacation getaway.

Today not only have many people shed the extra home many have doubled up with family or friends reducing the need for housing. We are pushing on a string and calling it demand when someone who can barely pay the rent is encouraged by the government to buy a house they can neither afford or maintain. We have a shortage of "qualified" buyers and renters. More on how low interest rates are hurting housing in the article below,

PT's picture

As long as the idiots and their enabling banksters can keep their dirty little secrets, the rest of us are fucked.

MontgomeryScott's picture

A. T.:

No jobs, no income.

No income, no money.

No money, no way to pay rent.

Unemployment is running out.

You've seen it coming for several years, but the reality is only now starting to settle in for you personally, I suppose.

You HAVE seen this coming, haven't you?

Didn't you protest when the shit in the stores was all of a sudden made somewhere ELSE?

To everything, Turn (Turn, Turn):

Get The Fuck Out Of There.