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imagesHere are the 5 metro areas where the average American family can easily afford to purchase a median-priced home – and the 5 where they can’t.

Most affordable: Indianapolis

Median home price: $106,000

Median income: $68,100

Affordability score: 95.7%

America’s most affordable housing market is the 33rd largest metro area in the United States, with 1.7 million people.

The median family income is fairly high — $68,100 — and median home prices are a very reasonable $106,000, according to the National Association of Homebuilders and Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index.

Helping keep home prices depressed is a fairly virulent foreclosure plague: There were more than 18,400 properties with foreclosure filings during 2009.

The turmoil in the auto industry, which Indianapolis had been closely associated with, has hurt the city. But increased diversification, which has made pharmaceutical companies, banks government agencies and insurers all important employers, has helped keep job losses in check. The unemployment rate was just 8.5% in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, well below the national rate of 10% that month.

Runner up: Detroit

Median home price: $86,000

Median income: $57,100

Affordability score: 93.4%

Detroit is transitioning from the leading manufacturing city of the land, the erstwhile “Arsenal of Democracy,” into a leaner, more diversified economy.

The metro area’s unemployment picture has darkened significantly in recent months and in December stood at 14.9%, nearly five percentage points higher than the national average. Still, it’s an improvement of 2.4 points over three months earlier.

Metro Detroit home prices, pushed down by continued high foreclosure rates, stood at a median of $86,000 during the fourth quarter of 2009. That was down from $145,000 back in 2005.

Even though the median family income is a modest $57,100, almost 94% of all homes sold during the quarter were affordable for the average household.

Third place: Dayton, Ohio

Median home price: $106,400

Median income: $62,100

Affordability score: 93.2%

The hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Dayton still hosts a significant aerospace industry centered on the Wright-Paterson Air Force base.

But the decline of heavy industry — including last year’s loss of the National Cash Register Co. to Duluth, Ga. — has pushed the city toward the service economy for job growth.

The core city’s population has dropped from a peak of more than 260,000 in 1960 to about 150,000 today. The metro area population has also dropped slightly over the past 10 years, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Fourth place: Youngstown, Ohio

Median home price: $76,000

Median income: $54,300

Affordability score: 93%

Youngstown was a vibrant, wealthy steel city for many decades. Workers there were paid some of the highest factory wages anywhere.

But the mill closings of the late 1970s devastated the area’s economy and about 40,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. Today, 13% of workers in the area are unemployed.

As jobs vanished, the area’s population shrank, leaving lots of vacant homes for sale — from very modest row houses to huge mansions. That helps keep the median home price in the metro area very low — and boosts Youngstown’s affordability score.

Low interest rates also help. Financing 80% of a $76,000 home with a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage at around 5% would result in a monthly payment of $326. At those kinds of prices, renters soon become homebuyers. Throw in the first-time homebuyers tax credit, which basically refunds about 10% of the purchase price, and you have great deals for entry-level homebuyers.

Fifth place: Akron, Ohio

Median home price: $100,000

Median income: $65,000

Affordability score: 92.2%

Akron was once synonymous with the American rubber industry, especially tires, and as the auto industry has declined, so has the city suffered. It’s most famous export now is now LeBron James.

The city is trying to come back via information technology. Research and development of polymers has helped fuel the economy with many well-paying jobs. But the population is still on the downswing, falling to fewer than 210,000 from nearly 300,000 just 50 years ago. And the area’s unemployment rate, at 10.7% in December, has been running above the national average.

Least affordable: New York City

Median home price: $425,000

Median income: $64,800

Affordability score: 19.7%

Home prices can be staggeringly high in the New York City metro area, but median income is not commensurately high; it’s under $65,000. That combo makes this the country’s least affordable major metro area.

Although, affordability has improved: The median home price has fallen from about $500,000 at the market peak, and more places are within reach now that mortgage rates are near historic lows.

After holding up better and longer than most housing markets, sales and prices around New York City have started to experience greater declines. The market there is highly influenced by what’s happening on Wall Street; when financial markets sneeze, the real estate industry says “God bless you” with feeling.

Runner up: San Francisco

Median home price: $625,000

Median income: $96,800

Affordability score: 22.3%

Home prices in the Bay Area rose during the last three months of 2009, dropping the percentage of affordable homes sold to 22.3.

Still, prices are way off from the heady days of 2006, when a median-priced house sold for $769,000, according to the NAHB-Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. Now the median home is only $625,000.

It’s a good thing the area’s median income comes to a whopping $96,800, among the highest in the nation. Unemployment, however, is growing, and the 10.1% rate for the metro area puts it above the national average.

Third place: Honolulu

Median home price: $450,000

Median income: $79,300

Affordability score: 33.8%

The biggest city and metro area in the Aloha State has been an expensive place to live for decades; little developable land and the need to import building materials from far away helped inflate home values.

Median home prices have bounced around a lot, topping out at around $585,000 during the last three months of 2007 and dropping to $360,000 in the first quarter of 2009. They bounced back to $450,000 late in the year.

The economy is as heavily dependent on tourism as any American city, and that industry has suffered as more Americans think twice about taking expensive vacations. Hotel occupancy rates declined for 18 consecutive months before rising slightly in September.

People are still working, however, with the official unemployment rate at just 5.3% in December, down a full percentage point from three months earlier and well below the national average.

Foreclosures are also not a big problem with just a total of 3,985 properties with filings during the third quarter, according to RealtyTrac. That was 128th among 203 areas covered. Still, the total was more than twice was high as three months earlier.

If that trend continues, it could unleash a host of distressed properties on the market, which should bring down prices and raise affordability.

Fourth place: Santa Ana, Calif.

Median home price: $435,000

Median income: $86,100

Affordability score: 34.5%

Many of the booming Orange County economies were driven by the once-swelling housing bubble. Thousands of jobs were created in construction, the real estate industry, retail and mortgage lending. Once that bubble burst, a lot of these jobs rapidly disappeared.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics counts Santa Ana as part of the Los Angeles metro area for calculating unemployment rate and that, at 11.3% in December, was above the national average.

Home prices have dropped substantially from the high they hit back in mid-2006, when the median Santa Ana home sold for $630,000. But prices rose to $435,000 during the final three months of 2009, up from $411,000.

Fifth place: Los Angeles

Median home price: $320,000

Median income: $62,100

Affordability score: 36.8%

As the City of Angels filled in and up, with the population exploding to nearly 4 million in town and 13 million in the metro area, the city has mostly run out of land to build on. That has led to much higher development costs and home prices.

Still, L.A. values have fallen far from the bubble years, off nearly 40% since mid-2006. Affordability is improved as well, with 36.8% of homes sold falling in a range that median income earners could comfortably pay for.

With prices much lower and unemployment at 11.3%, many area homeowners are having a tough time staying out of foreclosure; there were filings on nearly 176,000 homes last year, the highest total for any metro area.

according to yahoo.com

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