For $85,000, a buyer can snag a place with three bedrooms, two baths, and a backyard that includes one of the largest assemblages of roller coasters on the planet.
Metropolitan Sandusky, home of Cedar Point amusement park, was the easiest place in the nation to swing a home purchase in the first quarter of 2009, according to a new study conducted for the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo & Co.
The second-simplest place to go from renting to owning was Michigan's metro Monroe, where 97.5 percent of homes were affordable to people with the median family income of $70,300, the study found.
"They're both on the lake [Erie]," quipped John Moldovan, president of the Erie County Chamber of Commerce. "I guess waterfront property is cheaper than it used to be."
Although something of a double-edged sword, a high ranking on the so-called Housing Opportunity Index is different from surveys topped by hardscrabble cities with the most depressed housing values.
The trade group's quarterly study compares income in an area to selling prices of both new and existing homes. It assumes that homeowners can afford to spend 28 percent of gross income on housing, including mortgage payments, taxes, and insurance.
In Sandusky, where the U.S Department Housing and Urban Development says median family income is $63,300, there were 97.9 percent of homes rated affordable to families earning that much, study authors said.
Ranking last on the study was New York City, where median family income was only slightly higher than Sandusky's - and lower than Monroe's - at $64,800, but where a midpriced home was $418,000.
Nationwide, housing affordability jumped 10 percentage points during the first quarter of 2008 to its highest level since the study began 18 years ago, the Home Builders said.
Metro Toledo ranked 25th. Study authors said that 90.2 percent of homes were affordable to families with the median income of $61,800. Toledo ranked 32nd in the first quarter of 2008.
The median selling price was $78,000 in the recent quarter.
In a separate survey of metro areas with at least 500,000 people, Toledo ranked ninth, just behind No. 8 Buffalo, and No. 7 Cleveland. Indianapolis was first, with the most affordable housing by its area residents.
Declining housing prices are a major factor in the affordability increase, said Erika Fowler, owner of Key Real Estate in Bedford Township in Monroe County just over the Ohio border.
"When people called me before asking for a house under $100,000, I had nothing to sell them," she said.
"Now, I have 48 houses under $100,000," she said.
Lower prices, along with a federal tax credit of up to $8,000, are attracting many young, first-time buyers, she added.
Ann Dowell of Russell Real Estate in Perkins Township isn't surprised that metro Sandusky ranked so high on the study.
"Foreclosures are bringing values down," she said. "I'm glad I'm not a seller."
One young couple, both of whom work with NASA in Erie County, has been trying for nearly a year to sell a neat three-bedroom colonial priced at $85,000. "They're ready to buy up, but first they have to unload this," she added.
Despite such stories, the president of the Erie County Chamber of Commerce is not displeased that Sandusky ranked first on the affordability study.
"I choose to look at it as a positive," he said. "Housing has always been affordable here. If you look at Erie County, you can find a ramshackle place for $40,000 if you're a fixer-upper-type person. Conversely, we have homes in the $1 million to $2 million range."
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