Wichita remains one of the nation's most affordable housing markets, according to a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders, Wells Fargo and Forbes magazine.
Their housing opportunity index for the fourth quarter of 2009 ranks Wichita 27th nationally, with 90.9 percent of new and existing homes in the area affordable to families earning the area's median income of $62,900.
Nationally, the index closed at one of its highest recorded levels, the NAHB said, with 70.8 percent of homes affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,000.
Slowly appreciating home prices and relatively few foreclosures keep Wichita among the nation's most affordable housing markets, local experts said.
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Tessa Hultz, the CEO of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors, said the study can be a valuable marketing tool for her members.
"It's great for the higher-tech people who exchange a lot of information," she said. "A lot of that depends on the Realtor, with some more face-to-face and others using all the technology they can find."
Kokomo, Ind., was the most affordable metro area, with 98 percent of homes affordable at the median family income of $61,800.
Indianapolis was the most affordable major housing market, a position it has held for the past 4 1/2 years.
There, 95.7 percent of homes are affordable to the median family income of $68,100.
"Favorable mortgage rates and sliding house prices that have now started to stabilize nationally have both contributed to a record year for housing affordability in 2009," said NAHB chairman Bob Jones, a Michigan builder, in a statement.
Most of the top-ranked affordability markets, many in the Rust Belt, are driven by job losses, said Gary Walker, residential general manager for Wichita's J.P. Weigand & Sons.
"Big change from in the past, when Detroit and those areas were priced higher than us," Walker said.
Wichita has historically been a national leader in housing affordability, Walker said.
And that's a key marketing factor as Weigand agents market homes, both within the region and to newcomers.
"When I handled corporate relocations back in the day for Pizza Hut, almost without exception those people were ecstatic for what they could get for the buck," Walker said.
"It was a key factor contributing to people wanting to come to Wichita."
Wichita ranks 24 spots ahead of Oklahoma City on the affordability list. Kansas City didn't make the top 60.
"There have been times over the years dating back to the late '70s and early '80s where we've been lower-priced than some of the major metropolitan areas," Walker said.
But the rankings are one tool for sellers and agents as winter winds down.
"A more affordable lifestyle is a big attraction to anyone," Walker said. "We have a very good, high-quality affordable product in Wichita and that's a constant."