Despite Declining Affordability, Homeownership Remains Within Reach for Teachers in Many Parts of the Country

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While homeownership for teachers remains possible in many places, especially along the Rust Belt and in pockets of the South, the share of homes affordable for teachers declined across the board in every metro we looked at since 2012. As of late September this year, 20.4 percent of all homes for sale across 32 major U.S. metro areas were affordable on an average teacher’s salary of $62,800 — a 14.3 percentage point decline since 2012.  

This national picture is similar to the findings in our recent study of housing affordability for teachers in California, where 17 percent of homes for sale there were affordable on the average teacher’s annual salary, and affordability declined across the board in every county we studied from 2012 to 2016.

In both cases, home affordability declined due to consistently strong home-price growth combined with low wage growth for this working-class profession.

“The national homeownership rate is at a historic low, which is alarming in itself, but the homeownership rate for teachers is even lower,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “Especially for teachers just starting their careers, there is a huge affordability gap to overcome that significantly affects their ability to start building wealth early through homeownership. This is not just an affordability issue for teachers; it affects other public servants as well and should be a national concern. Great things happen when the people who form fundamental connections between community members, like those who educate our youth, are able to invest in the communities they serve.”

Affordability Metro Map (1) (1)
You can download the full data set, including average teacher salary, percentage of affordable homes and the percent point change in salary and affordability from 2012 to 2016 by clicking on this image.

The Detroit metropolitan area topped the list as the most affordable area for teachers. Nearly half of the homes on the market were in reach on the average teacher salary of $68,077. Yes, Detroit often makes headlines for its incredibly affordable housing, but that’s not the only reason why it topped the list. Teachers are also relatively well-paid in Detroit, with an average annual salary that is 14 percent higher than the average household income in the region, according to the Census Bureau.

“The Detroit metropolitan area has some of the most affordable real estate in the country,” said Lauren Buttazzoni, a Redfin real estate agent in Detroit. “But it’s also a great place to live and work. Downtown is undergoing a renaissance, with lots of beautiful new construction along the Detroit river. Many homebuyers also enjoy the quaint, yet very walkable neighborhoods of Ferndale and Royal Oak. Being able to say that Detroit is one of the few remaining areas of the U.S. where civil servants and working-class professionals can still afford to become homeowners is just one more reason why I’m a proud Michigander.”  

Teachers in Pennsylvania are also poised to take on the mantle of homeownership, with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both in the top five. A major reason why affordability remains so strong for these teachers is that home prices have not changed much since 2012. Prices were 8.5 and 6.5 percent higher respectively in these metros compared to the same period in 2012. At the same time, teacher pay kept pace with salaries rising 5.9 percent in Pittsburgh and 15.4 percent in Philadelphia — a rare combination of slow price appreciation and positive wage growth.

As expected, the costly coastal regions of California ranked among the least affordable. Denver, Colorado also made the list of one of the least affordable metros for teachers. This is in large part due to stagnant wages and an increasingly expensive and competitive housing market.

Methodology

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we calculated the average salary by metropolitan area for elementary, middle and secondary teachers (except special education). Based on these average salaries, we gathered all multiple listing service (MLS) listings active on the market in each metro as of Sept. 30, 2016, along with the estimated property tax rates. Using the list price, current homeowners association (HOA) dues, and the property tax rate for each listing, we calculated the estimated monthly mortgage cost with a 3.5 percent interest rate and 10 percent down payment of the current list price and determined the percentage of homes where the monthly mortgage payment was equal to or less than the max monthly mortgage payment possible on the average teacher’s salary for each area based on the 30 percent gross income rule for affordability.

We then performed the same analysis on the same date in 2012 to make a four-year comparison in salaries and affordable listings by area.

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Jeffery writes about the L.A. real estate market for Redfin Real Time and works with journalists covering real estate throughout Southern California. He previously worked as an editor and researcher for a leading real estate publishing firm. Redfin is a full-service real estate brokerage that uses modern technology to make clients smarter and faster. For more information about working with a Redfin real estate agent to buy or sell a home, visit our "Why Redfin?," page.

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