NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Conditions have been pretty good for homebuyers in the past year or so. Prices, though rising at a good clip, generally remain below the pre-crisis peaks, and interest rates are very low. Still, any buyer looking at any home must ask the fundamental questions: How much can I afford?
And it's all too easy to oversimplify that question, which actually has two parts: How big a mortgage can I get? What's the maximum monthly payment that really makes sense in my circumstances? Given the troubles that befell millions of homeowners in the crisis, it's best to be very conservative in answering that second question, perhaps borrowing less than you could. Read on for a really frightening observation.
In fact, the big home price gains of 2013 are a somewhat ominous sign, because home values rose much faster than incomes. That's what happened in the buildup to the financial crisis. And that condition cannot keep going for very long or prices will get out of reach. Then the bubble will pop and many people will be left owing more than their homes are worth.
The market is still far short of that crisis level, but where, exactly, is it? For a deeper look, HSH.com, the mortgage and housing-data firm, looked at home prices and mortgage rates to figure what income would be required to buy the median-priced home in 25 major cities. They assumed buyers put 20% down and could shoulder principal and interest payments no higher than 28% of gross income.