Even Two-Income Families Find It Harder to Buy a Home

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Fannie Mae has an encouraging report on the housing market.

In it, Fannie Mae says 38% of American homeowners call this a "good time" to sell a home, compared with just 26% at the same time last year.

Buyers are more optimistic, too, with 52% saying it's "easier" to get a mortgage these days, compared with 47% last year.

That's good news for a real estate market that could use it, especially as the all-important spring selling season opens.

"The housing recovery continues to proceed in fits and starts," says Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae. "Rising mortgage rates and a lack of supply have dampened housing market momentum."

"However, we see several positive signs going into this year's spring home buying season compared with last year," he says. Buyers are more confident about their personal finances and more bullish about qualifying for a mortgage.

"Still, those who are pessimistic about buying or selling a home today tend to point to economic conditions as the primary issue, and most consumers continue to say the economy is on the wrong track," Duncan says. "Looking forward, we expect to see a pickup in economic growth later in the year, and this may boost the confidence of prospective buyers and sellers."

Fannie Mae reports that only 12% of Americans say they expect their financial situation to worsen, down from 21% last year.

But separate data from Redfin, a real estate brokerage firm, shows that most families with two middle-class incomes still can't afford to buy a home (at median sales prices) in many U.S. metropolitan centers.

Officially, Redfin reports, 41% of middle-class families with those two incomes can afford to buy a home in 40 major U.S. cities.

It gets worse for one-income households. Redfin notes that just 10% of one-income households could afford a mortgage in those 40 cities.

Why the difficulty in home affordability, especially as more buyers seem to want to buy? The firm explains that housing prices have risen by 13% in each of the past two years, while median household income hasn't moved an inch (adjusted for inflation.)

Redfin says home affordability is most problematic in California, where homebuyers with two middle-class incomes (think police officer and hospital nurse) can't afford a home in the state's eight largest cities.

Richmond, Va.; Camden, N.J.; Philadelphia; and Atlanta offer the most affordable homes for two- and one-income households. If home prices rise further in 2014, that gap is only going to grow wider, and could send the nation's residential real estate backward as fewer buyers chase more abundant, but more expensive, homes.