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Housing Affordability Improves in California

THE number of Californians able to buy a median-priced home grew by 2 percent last year to 21 percent, a real estate trade group reported Monday. The increase in affordability of housing comes at a time when the California housing market, the nation's largest, has been in a slump for more than a year and a half without much hope for a quick turnaround. Potential buyers first became skittish because of high prices in the urban coastal areas and then because of the slowing economy and the Gulf war.

The California Association of Realtors said that as of December, 21 percent of the state's households took in the minimum annual income of $62,330 needed to afford the monthly mortgage payments of $1,560 on a median-priced home, which sold for $192,930.

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Affordability improved in most regions of the state, which saw a 17.1 percent decline in existing home sales last year and a 30 percent decline in permits for new housing. Affordability in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, posted the biggest gain with a surge to 21 percent from 14 percent.

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