How to afford a mortgage as interest rates and home prices rise

It’s no secret that it’s a tough market for prospective home buyers.

In October, U.S. buyers needed to earn $107,281 to afford the median monthly mortgage payment of $2,682 for a “typical home,” Redfin reported this week. 

That’s 45.6% higher than the $73,668 yearly income needed to cover the median mortgage payment 12 months ago, the report finds.

The primary reason is rising mortgage interest rates, said Melissa Cohn, regional vice president at William Raveis Mortgage. “The bottom line is mortgage rates have more than doubled since the beginning of the year,” she said.

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Despite the sharp drop reported this week, the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $647,200 or less was hovering below 7%, compared to under 3.50% at the beginning of January.

And while home values have softened in some markets, the average sales price is up from one year ago.

“Home prices have gone up substantially, mortgage rates have more than doubled and that’s just crushing affordability,” said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage website HSH.

Meanwhile, a higher cost of living is still cutting into Americans’ budgets, with annual inflation at 7.7% in October.

How to make your mortgage more affordable 

While the current conditions may feel bleak for buyers, experts say there are a few ways to reduce your monthly mortgage payment.

For example, a higher down payment means a smaller mortgage and lower monthly payments, Gumbinger explained. “More down in this sort of environment can definitely play a role in getting your mortgage cost under control,” he said.

Another option is an adjustable-rate mortgage, or ARM, which offers a lower initial interest rate compared to a fixed-rate mortgage. The rate later adjusts at a predetermined intervals to the market rate at that time.

An ARM may also be worth considering, as long as you understand the risks, Cohn said.

Rising rates pushing out potential homeowners

If you’re planning to stay in the home for several years, there’s a risk you won’t be able to refinance to a fixed-rate mortgage before the ARM adjusts, she said. And in a rising rate environment, it’s likely to adjust higher.

Your eligibility for a future refinance can change if your income declines or your home value drops. “That’s a greater risk, especially for a first-time homebuyer,” Cohn said.

Of course, home values and demand vary by location, which affects affordability, Gumbinger said. “Being patient and being opportunistic is a good strategy for market conditions like this,” he said.

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