WASHINGTON — Housing affordability remained near its highest level nationwide for the seventh consecutive quarter as interest rates dipped below 5 percent for the first time since the series was first compiled nearly two decades ago, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI).

The HOI indicated that 72.1 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the third quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400. The index for the third quarter almost equaled the record-high 72.5 percent set during the first quarter of 2009 and marked the seventh consecutive quarter that the index rose above 70 percent. Until 2009, the HOI rarely topped 65 percent and never reached 70 percent.

"With interest rates remaining at historically low levels, and house prices starting to stabilize, homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for almost 20 years,," said NAHB Chairman Bob Jones, a home builder from Bloomfield Hills, MI. "While these favorable conditions are beginning to draw home buyers back into the market, builders continue to have major problems in obtaining credit for new-home construction, and this obstacle must be overcome if builders are to respond to improving demand moving forward."

Indianapolis-Carmel, IN, was the most affordable major housing market in the country. In Indianapolis, 93.3 percent of all homes sold were affordable to households earning the area's median family income of $68,700. Also near the top of were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA, Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI; Dayton, OH, and Wichita, KS.

Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Kokomo, IN, where 96.1 percent of homes sold during the third quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning a median-income of $61,400. Other smaller housing markets near the top of the index included Mansfield, OH; Lima, OH; Monroe, MI; and Bay City, MI.

Least affordable was the New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ area. In New York, 22.6 percent of all homes sold during the quarter were affordable to those earning the area's median income of $65,600. Other major metro areas near the bottom included San Francisco; Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA; and Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA.

Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA, was the least affordable of the smaller metro housing markets in the country during the third quarter.

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