Finding a place to call home is an expensive undertaking in Utah County, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The association issued a report this week that lists the Provo-Orem area as one of the least affordable housing markets in the country. The Provo-Orem area, which based on population figures used by the association includes all of Utah County, ranked 24th out of 25 housing markets in which home values outpaced median household income.The Salt Lake-Ogden metropolitan area is considered one of the most affordable housing markets in the Western region, ranking number two. Salt Lake City-Ogden ranked 35th nationally.

The association's report, titled the Housing Opportunity Index, is based on a total of nearly 300,000 sales nationwide of new and existing homes during the first quarter of 1991. The Department of Housing and Urban Development calculated median household income figures used in the report.

The association identified the percentage of homes sold in 147 urban markets that were affordable for the median-income household at the prevailing mortgage interest rate.

According to general underwriting standards used to calculate the index, at the prevailing interest rate of 9.25 percent a household could afford to purchase a home equal to 2.8 times its annual income.

Generally, markets in the Northeast and California were among the least affordable while those in the Midwest and South were the most affordable. Sixteen California cities or areas claimed a spot on the listing of least affordable markets. In the Western region, Provo-Orem ranked 20th among 36 cities, with 16 cities - all in California - having less affordable housing.

At $25,700, Provo-Orem's median household income for the first quarter of 1991 was the lowest in the Western region, which includes Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Nevada and California. The median home price in Provo-Orem was $80,000, up from $76,000 during the same quarter in 1990.

Only 38 percent of the homes in Provo-Orem could be purchased by residents earning the median household income, the association found.

By comparison, homes in Portland, Ore., also have a median value of $80,000 but median household income is $37,100. Homes in the Fort Collins-Loveland area of Colorado are valued at $78,000 but median income is $35,500.

The median household income in Salt Lake City-Ogden is $35,400 and median home price is $76,000, according to the report. Those homes are thus affordable to 73 percent of residents.

Local real estate agents and home builders have mixed reactions to the report.

Gary Tate, president of the Utah County Board of Realtors, isn't buying it.

"We have one of the strongest markets in Utah in Utah County right now," Tate said. "The housing costs are definitely not out of reach to the buying public."

Tate believes incomes in Utah County are probably higher than indicated by the report."With the tremendous increase in professional people brought in by high-tech companies, I think our median income is probably a lot higher than we are given credit for right now," he said.

But Dennis Carter, owner of Carter Construction in Orem and a past president of the Utah Homebuilders Association, thinks the report is right on.

"The economy down here is pretty good, but it's pretty good for the middle and upper incomes," Carter said. "For the first-time home buyer and those out looking for rentals, it's pretty tough."

An example: lots in Provo and Orem cost an average $20,000 to $24,000; the average building permit issued in Orem during April was for a home valued at $100,000.

"That's certainly not a first-time buyer or lower-income housing," Carter said. "Developers and builders need to take a good hard look at this and see if they can't go out in the smaller communities where property is less and work with the cities in putting together developments that would satisfy the needs of lower-income (people)."

Tate agreed that there is a shortage of homes available for first-time buyers and that housing prices are rising faster than incomes.

"But I don't think it's out of line yet," he said.

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Markets compared

Among the 25 most affordable markets (based on median income and home price):

1. Amarillo, Texas (income: $36,700; home price: $66,000*)

3. Dayton Beach, Fla. (income: $28,700; home price $58,000)

11. Tulsa, Okla. (income: $35,700; home price: $65,000)

14. Detroit, Mich. (income: $41,300; home price: $71,000)

18. Columbia, S.C. (income: $38,100; home price: $72,000)

20. Colorado Springs, Colo. (income: $34,000; home price: $70,000)

25. Akron, Ohio (income: $37,100; home price: $68,000)

Among the 25 least affordable markets:

1. San Francisco, Calif. (income: $45,600; home price: $265,000)

6. Vallejo-Napa, Calif. (income: $38,900; home price: $158,000)

14. Jersey City, N.J. (income: $32,100; home price: $138,000)

15. New York, N.Y. (income: $36,900; home price: $160,000)

20. Chico, Calif. (income: $27,300; home price: $91,000)

22. Providence, R.I. (income: $37,500; home price: $115,000)

24. Provo-Orem, Utah (income: $25,700; home price: $80,000)