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San Franciscans age 25-44 can afford only 1.4 percent of city homes

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Prices are shutting out key first-time buyer demographic

A very low-angle shot of a house’s bay windows from below, with a flowery tree bough at the top of the frame. Photo by G.Rocco dt

Who can actually afford to buy any of San Francisco’s incredibly in-demand homes? It depends on who you ask.

In 2016, the rental site Zumper estimated that as few as 40 percent of San Franciscans can keep up with the mortgage payment on a median-priced home without being unduly burdened (i.e., paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing costs).

That may have been a rosy estimate, as earlier in the year the California Association of Realtors pegged the same statistic at just 11 percent. Since then prices have only gone up (albeit incrementally), so what’s the damage in 2017?

The home finance site Unison put forth their own estimate today, and the results were pretty grim. Unison’s lead graphic on the study shows that only one percent of San Francisco properties are within reach of a median earner. Truly the loneliest number.

It actually turns out that the real figure is closer to 1.4 percent, which is not something to get all happy about either, of course. Note that this Unison study considers only a particular demographic, those ages 25-44.

While we learned last week that San Francisco is one of most popular cities in America for Millennials, lots of luck to any of those kids hoping to put down roots here.

It turns out there’s a good reason for singling out that particular cross-section of society. The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis blog writes:

First-time homebuyers have represented 20-40 percent of total home sales over the past 10 years, according to the National Association of Realtors. Most first-time buyers are 25-44 years old; their actions have helped drive the housing market and have been an engine for economic growth across the nation.

Gabriele Martini

Last year’s census survey estimates that the 25-44 range makes up 38.5 percent of the city’s total population, so it’s a fairly important subset of potential buyers.

Except of course that they’re not really potential buyers, at least not as Unison figures things. The 1.4 percent number comes out of a median estimated monthly income of $92,501/year (before taxes) and a ceiling of 45 percent toward the mortgage—which is pretty high as these things are usually reckoned.

Note that some of last year’s estimates put the average household income in the 25-44 age bracket at $100,000/year, but even that pay bump opens relatively few doors (literally).

Unison notes that a 20 percent down payment hikes the depressing number from 1.4 to 3.8 percent. But of course, that’s contingent on being able to afford such a thing in the first place.

In 2016, the credit site Credit Sesame surveyed 1,000 Americans and found 69 percent of respondent age 25-44 who don’t own a home cited the cost as the reason.