Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Time to buy a house?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2009 at 11:09 AM

A cursory glance at the latest stats from the Humboldt Association of Realtors suggests that it may be time for locals, at least those who still have jobs, to take that domestic plunge into homeownership. The average mortgage rate in January hit its lowest mark in many moons, maybe forever -- 5.21 percent. Plus, the median price for a house went up for the first time in a while. Does this mean that the local housing market hit bottom in December?

Maybe it did; maybe it didn't. Let's look a bit closer:

Looking at the stats in individual towns, it appears more likely that a couple of high-rollers bought some choice cribs in Arcata, skewing the stats. Check it: The countywide affordability index (meaning the percentage of folks who could afford the median-priced home) has been on a healthy and fairly steady increase since bottoming out at a nasty 11 percent in the middle of 2007. But in January, it dropped from 23 percent to 21 percent -- bad news for the other 79 percent.

But when you separate Arcata, some digits jump off the charts. The median-priced house there went from an already stomach-churning $354,000 in December to a flat-out nauseating $520,000 in January. That's the second highest-mark ever for Arcata. (The all-time high, 608,000, reached in April 2006, was another apparent anomaly, flanked by prices in the mid-$300,000 range.) That sent the affordability index in our college burgh to a criminal low of just five percent. Ouch.

Who's to blame? Grow houses? Maybe in part, for reducing supply. But the stoners didn't just show up in January. More likely a Donald or two landed mansions on Fickle Hill. Bully for them.

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Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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