How affordable is Tampa Bay? One test is whether someone earning the median income can afford the median priced home.
By that measure, we're doing well, better than Florida's two other major metro areas — Orlando and Miami.
A Tampa Bay buyer would need a salary of $54,627 to afford the median priced home ($238,700), according to mortgage information company HSH.com. The area's median household income is $51,115.
By that math, the typical household falls just short of affording a mortgage on the typical home. The gap, however, likely isn't even that wide, given that the income estimates are for 2016, the most current from the U.S. Census Bureau. While sluggish, wages have ticked up in the past 18 months.
The income figures also include adults under 30, who don't earn as much and often aren't looking to buy a home anyway, and people over 65, who also earn less on average but often already own a home. Strip them out and most Tampa Bay households earn more than enough.
For historical perspective, Tampa Bay's median home price peaked at about $245,000 in 2006, before the Great Recession massacred the housing market. Back then, our median income was just $43,742, which made it much harder for the typical family to afford the average home.
The bright spot comes with a caveat.
"It's good news in your area that home prices are still relatively affordable," said HSH.com vice president Keith Gumbinger. "But incomes are not growing enough to keep up with rising home prices. If that goes on for long, the market will quickly become less affordable."
That's why, at least for now, home buyers here have it better than in Orlando and Miami, the other two Florida cities HSH studied. Home prices in both those cities have risen faster.
Orlando residents need $61,000 a year to buy that city's $269,000 median priced home, nearly $9,000 more than the median income.
In Miami, where the median home price was $353,000, residents have to stretch even more. It takes a salary of $78,337, but the median income is just $51,362.
Tampa Bay, with a $238,700 median home price, is also in better shape than several big cities with high incomes but extreme home prices, including San Francisco, San Jose and New York. And we have a leg up on Boston, Denver and Portland, Ore.
On the flip side, Houston, Charlotte, Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta and several others boast median incomes that exceed what is required to purchase the typical home.
HSH's calculations assume a 20 percent down payment and a 4.66-4.77 percent interest rate on a 30-year mortgage. The company included principal, interest, taxes and insurance, and used home prices from the first quarter of the year.
Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at real estate analytics company Zillow, said Tampa Bay is in decent shape even when splicing the data into three tiers — high-, middle- and low-priced homes.
Home buyers in the lower price range usually spend a higher percentage of their income on housing. That's true in Tampa Bay, but all three tiers are close to their historical averages, and all three spend less than their counterparts in Orlando and Miami.
"In Tampa, you're still looking relatively healthy across all three groups," he said.
A big variable going forward: interest rates. Low rates over the past decade have helped keep homes affordable. They allow buyers in each income category to purchase more expensive homes. But rates have been ticking up and are expected to go higher.
On a standard 30-year mortgage, a 1 percentage point rise in rates would cost the buyer of a median priced home in Tampa Bay an additional $114 a month. A two-point rise would boost the payment by about $235 a month.
Incomes are unlikely to climb as quickly.
"As interest rates start to rise, it will eat into mortgage affordability pretty sharply," Terrazas said.
If the spread between incomes and home prices widens too much, the market will favor cash buyers even more than it does now. That could push aside some traditional buyers, especially at the lower end of the market.
For now, we can relish our relative affordability.
Contact Graham Brink at email@example.com. Follow @GrahamBrink