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Wild, Wild West: Housing Mother Lode Drained In Golden State

It’s a lot like dusty prospectors packing up and leaving a mother lode of gold that’s been tapped out.

The massive home building shortfall in California has sparked an exodus of homebuilders leaving regions that were once housing boom towns.

California home builders have long held that the state needs 250,000 new homes every year to keep homes affordable.

This year, however, they plan to produce a paltry 79,000 new homes — fewer starts than in any year since 1954, according to the California Building Industry Association.

But California housing has become more affordable anyway.

That’s because housing woes have left California as one of the nation’s hardest hit states when it comes to foreclosures, tight credit, home sales declines and subsequent dips in home values.

New single-family home starts are down from 55 percent from a year earlier, the association reported. Actual production for the first quarter was off more than 48 percent.

And at least one builder president and CEO, Don Tomnitz with D.R. Horton, recently told the Associated Press conditions for the new home market are not likely to improve until 2010.

Some of the woes are being exacerbated by the fear of buying in a market where home prices could decline further.

However, as the value of California’s once golden new home market diminishes, brave buyers are finding a silver lining.

The California Association of Realtors (CAR) recently reported 44 percent of the state’s households could afford to buy an entry-level home during the first quarter this year.

That’s almost double what it was a year ago, at 26 percent.

More home buyers are beginning to see a silver lining shining behind California’s clouded housing market.

The state has had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation and new and existing sales have been slow. That’s left the Golden State bulging at the seams with a swollen inventory of homes for sale.

So where’s the silver lining?

Affordability.

Homes are a lot cheaper and so is mortgage money.

The California Association of Realtors (CAR) says 44 percent of the state’s households could afford to buy an entry-level home during the first quarter this year. That’s almost double what it was a year ago, at 26 percent.

The median income necessary to purchase an entry-level home dropped about $29,000 from $97,000 in April last year to about $68,000 this year.

That’s because single-family home prices in California simply crashed in April, falling a whopping 32 percent from a year ago. The median price is now about $200,000 less than it was a year ago, according to the state’s Realtor association.

Even land values in some areas have plunged by as much as 65 percent, according to the Hoffman Land Index.

Not a single region escaped double digit home price declines in April.

Seaside resort area Monterey County saw its median home price slashed by more than 47 percent. Sacramento was down 35 percent. San Diego and Los Angeles, both down 27 percent. Santa Cruz and Santa Clara County, the region that includes Silicon Valley, were only down 13 percent each — the smallest regional price declines in the state.

Also boosting affordability was lenders’ recent reduction in interest rates by nearly a full percentage point for jumbo mortgages of up to about $730,000.

But many more homes now qualify for even cheaper mortgage interest rates. The median price of a home in California now stands at about $400,000, down from $594,000 a year ago and below even the old conforming loan level where rates are lowest.

CAR said the minimum household income needed to purchase an entry-level home at $356,350 in California in the first quarter of 2008 was $67,830, based on an adjustable interest rate of 5.65 percent and assuming a 10 percent down payment.

First-time buyers typically purchase a home equal to 85 percent of the prevailing median price. The monthly payment including taxes and insurance was $2,260 for the first quarter of 2008.

At $67,830, the minimum qualifying income was 30 percent lower than a year earlier when households needed $96,500 to qualify for a loan on an entry-level home.

In California, median household income stands at $50,700, according to CAR.

With 64 percent of households with enough income to afford a starter home, Sacramento County and the High Desert region were the most affordable areas in the state. Monterey was the least affordable area in the state at 29 percent, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area at 30 percent. In San Diego it was 41 percent; Los Angeles, 35 percent; Silicon Valley, 31 percent.

Written by Broderick Perkins for www.RealtyTimescom. Copyright