Home prices are going up across the country — in aggregate. Looking at individual markets, however, some are showing prices have fallen from a year ago. Single-family median home prices increased 4% in the fourth quarter from a year ago to $378,700. Prices were strongest in the Northeast in the last quarter, up 5.3%; followed by the South, up 4.9%; the Midwest, up 4% and the West, up 2.6%, according to the National Association of Realtors. But drill down to the market level and it’s clear that prices in some areas are declining from the prior year. The positive regional numbers mask that about 11% of individual housing markets tracked by NAR — 20 of 186 cities — experienced home price declines in the fourth quarter of last year. “A few markets may see double-digit price drops, especially some of the more expensive parts of the country, which have also seen weaker employment and higher instances of residents moving to other areas,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. Nearly all of the most expensive places to buy are in the West and half of the 10 most expensive cities are in California. Several of those places are seeing prices fall the most. San Jose, California, was the most expensive place to purchase a home in the United States in the fourth quarter. But that median price of $1,577,500 is actually down 5.8% from a year ago — and prices there have already dropped 17% from the peak $1,900,000 median price in the second quarter of last year, according to NAR. San Francisco had the biggest price drop in the country, year over year, last quarter, with the median price of $1,230,000 — down 6.1% from a year ago. Prices for San Francisco homes are already down 21% in the fourth quarter from the peak median price of $1,550,000 in the second quarter. Among the most expensive cities that saw prices falling are Anaheim, California, with the median price of $1,132,000, down 1.6% from a year ago; Los Angeles, with the median price of $829,100, down 1.3%; and Boulder, Colorado, with the median price of $759,500, down 2.0%. Other places with falling prices saw the big price increases during the frenzied home buying market of the past few years. They also tend to be appealing lifestyle destinations where people moved to as remote work provided more flexibility. These include Boise, Idaho, where prices fell 3.4% from a year ago and Austin, Texas, where prices are down 1.3%. The good news for buyers looking for price relief is that the 4% median price hike in the fourth quarter is less than the 8.6% increase in the third quarter. In addition, the price increases are smaller, with far fewer markets experiencing double-digit price gains in the fourth quarter. “A slowdown in home prices is underway and welcomed, particularly as the typical home price has risen 42% in the past three years,” said Yun, noting these cost increases have far surpassed wage increases and consumer price inflation since 2019. A fractured market Throughout much of the pandemic, home prices across the country moved in a single direction: up. Some hotspots like Austin and Boise saw prices skyrocket. Other areas — particularly in the Midwest — saw prices go up more moderately. Yet, because mortgage rates were near historic lows, buyers came out in droves. That story changed last year, when mortgage rates spiked as a result of the Federal Reserve’s historic campaign to rein in inflation. Homebuying fell off a cliff. By the end of 2022, sales of existing homes were down nearly 18% from 2021 as would-be homebuyers left the market, according to NAR. Typically, a drop in demand to buy would mean excess supply and ultimately lead to prices coming down. But that’s not happening, broadly speaking, in the housing market. Instead, prices for single-family homes climbed in nearly 90% of metro areas tracked by NAR in the fourth quarter: 166 markets out of 186 saw prices still going up. The national median price of a single-family home increased 4% last quarter from one year ago to $378,700. How can this be? One main driver of this phenomenon is that there is a shortage of inventory due to chronic underbuilding of affordable homes in the United States, along with homeowners who don’t want to part with the ultra-low mortgage rate they secured over the past few years. “Even with a projected reduction in home sales this year, prices are expected to remain stable in the vast majority of the markets due to extremely limited supply,” said Yun. There are still places where home prices continue to climb at double-digit rates. The top 10 cities with the largest year-over-year price increases all recorded gains of at least 14.5%, with seven of those markets in Florida and the Carolinas, according to NAR. Farmington, New Mexico, saw the biggest price increase in the fourth quarter, up 20.3% from a year ago. It was followed by Sarasota, Florida, up 19.5%; Naples, Florida, up 17.2%; Greensboro, North Carolina, up 17.0%; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, up 16.2%; Oshkosh, Wisconsin, up 16.0%; Winston-Salem, North Carolina, up 15.7%; El Paso, Texas, up 15.2%; Punta Gorda, Florida, up 15.2%; and Daytona Beach, Florida, up 14.5%. How is affordability changing? In the last quarter of 2022 a family needed a qualifying income of at least $100,000 to afford a 10% down payment mortgage in 71 markets, up from 59 in the prior quarter, according to NAR. Yet there were 16 markets where a family needed a qualifying income of less than $50,000 to afford a home, although that was down from 17 the previous quarter. Some of those included Peoria, Illinois, where a family can qualify for a loan with an income of $33,660; Waterloo, Iowa, with an income of $40,639; and Montgomery, Alabama, with an income of $48,172. Nationally, the monthly mortgage payment on a typical existing single-family home with a 20% down payment was $1,969 in the fourth quarter according to NAR. That’s a 7% increase from the third quarter of last year, when the monthly payment was $1,838, but a major surge of 58% — or a $720 monthly increase — from one year ago. This made the affordability picture even harder for many home buyers. Families typically spent 26.2% of their income on mortgage payments, which was up from 25% in the prior quarter and 17.5% one year ago. First-time buyers were evidently pushed to a breaking point on affordability. They typically spent 39.5% of their family income on mortgage payments, up from 37.8% in the previous quarter. A mortgage is considered unaffordable if the monthly payment, including principal and interest, amounts to more than 25% of the family’s income. Generally, a common financial rule of thumb is to not spend more than 30% of your income on housing costs.