$142,448.33: What You Need to Earn to Buy 'Median' Home in Bay Area

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Income needed to buy a home in 27 U.S. metro areas.  (HSH.com)

If you're looking for a bargain in housing -- or at least shelter that looks relatively inexpensive -- try Cleveland. Or Pittsburgh. Or Detroit, Cincinnati or St. Louis.

According to mortgage information site HSH.com, the median home price in each of those cities is under $140,000. At prevailing interest rates, you can get a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with payments of $828 a month or less.

You know by now that buying or renting a place to lay your head in the Bay Area is an expensive proposition. San Francisco's Paragon Real Estate says regional median home sales prices ranged from $265,000 in Vallejo to $5.4 million in Atherton. HSH, using data from the National Association of Realtors, puts the regional median price for the final three months of 2014 at $742,900.

That's the number for the Census Bureau's San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Median, as a reminder, means that half of the homes purchased in the Bay Area during that period sold for more than that figure and half for less.

HSH calculates that at a 30-year fixed rate of 4.02 percent and 20 percent down on that $742,900 home -- meaning an upfront payment of almost $150,000 -- your monthly mortgage payment would come to $3,323.79. And the before-tax income you'd need to pay the bank, your insurance company and your taxes? HSH pegs that at $142,448.33 (see the assumptions behind the numbers).


(And if you look to Silicon Valley, the situation is even more extreme. The National Association of Realtors says the median home price in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara MSA -- that's Santa Clara and San Benito counties -- was $855,000 in the fourth quarter of 2014. Our back-of-the-envelope calculations using HSH's methodology suggests that you'd need to be bringing in $167,957.12 a year to afford the median-priced home in the South Bay.)

HSH calls the Bay Area "the king" of unaffordability -- and indeed, it's the only metropolitan area among the 27 the company ranks where buyers would need household income of more than $95,000 -- what you'd need to buy a home in the San Diego area -- to buy at the median price.

Who can buy at those prices?

Well, cash buyers, for one. Real-estate data firm Core Logic DataQuick says that in January cash sales accounted for about one in five home sales in the Bay Area -- a lower level than a couple years ago but still well above the historical average for the region.

So what about the rest of us, the people who don't have a big pile of currency or bitcoin to burn?

A U.S. Conference of Mayors study released last August estimated that in 2013, the median household income for Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda and Contra Costa counties was $75,900 and is expected to rise to about $102,000 by 2021.

For Santa Clara County, the median household income was just under $93,500, rising to $130,000 in 2021 -- tops in the United States.

So, you have to reach high above those median income figures to find the households that can buy that median home in today's market.