For first-time homebuyers, Sacramento's now hard to beat

For all the pain and trouble associated with this housing bust, one thing is clear: It's getting better and better for first-time buyers.

And few places beat Sacramento, according to a new report from the California Association of Realtors.

CAR says 80 percent of Sacramento County first-timers could afford a median-priced entry-level home in the first quarter of 2009.

The same quarter in 2008 it was 65 percent – considered then to be amazing.

Only the high desert region of Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley's Merced County – which has seen a median entry-level price tumble to an astonishing $89,040 – were more affordable than Sacramento County. (Median is where half the homes cost more and half less.)

In California, 69 percent of buyers could afford a median-priced entry-level house at $213,040, CAR said.

The report, issued Thursday, pegged Sacramento County's entry-level median at $143,870, requiring a qualifying income of $25,720 based on 10 percent down and a 4.96 percent interest rate. Sacramento County tends to do well in CAR's affordability index with its relatively good public-sector salaries and its inland California home values.

Median sales prices for all existing homes sold in Sacramento County have dropped by a third in the past year to $160,000, according to researcher MDA DataQuick. They're off 57 percent from an August 2005 high of $374,000.

Roadblocks still abound for first-time buyers, including qualifying for loans. Many of these great prices, too, are attached to beat-up bank repos that account for two-thirds of sales and reflect the stresses of their previous owners.

Yet there are lots of first-timers out there, say real estate agents, and they're scoring. It's the happy corner of a market still greatly suffering from its many excesses of 2003-2007.


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