Nearly three-quarters of the homes sold in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2012 were affordable to a family that was earning the U.S. median income of $65,000.  According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI), 74.1 percent of homes sold nationwide met those criteria, up from 73.8 percent in the second quarter.  Lower interest rates helped to make homes more affordable to median-income families NAHB said, even as home prices inched up in many metropolitan areas across the country.

The median price of new and existing homes sold in the third quarter was $189,000, up from $176,000 one year earlier.  NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said that was the strongest number NAHB had seen since the last quarter of 2008.  "But at the same time," he said, "mortgage rates were at their lowest levels in decades, which kept homes quite affordable. Clearly, for families who qualify for a mortgage at such favorable terms, the outlook is brightening -- but being able to afford a home and getting approved for a mortgage are still two different things in the current marketplace."

The most affordable area in the country was Ogden-Clearfield, Utah where, 93.2 percent of all new and existing homes sold between July and September of this year were affordable to families earning the area's median household income of $71,500.  Also ranking among the most affordable major housing markets were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pennsylvania and Indianapolis-Carmel, Indiana.

Among smaller housing markets, Fairbanks, Alaska, retained its standing at the top of the affordability chart with an incredible 99.4 percent of all homes sold there in the third quarter being affordable to families earning the area's median income of $92,900. Other smaller housing markets at the top of the index included Mansfield and Lima, Ohio and Wheeling, West Virginia.-Ohio.

Meanwhile, New York-White Plains-Wayne, New York-New Jersey retained the title of the least affordable major housing market in the country for an 18th consecutive quarter, with just 28.5 percent of homes sold there being affordable to families earning the area's median income of $68,300.  Other least affordable areas included San Francisco and surrounding areas and several cities in Orange County, California

The least affordable small housing market in the third quarter was Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California. with just 44.4 percent of homes sold being within reach of families earning the median income of $87,000. Other small metros at the bottom of the list included Ocean City, New Jersey and San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, California.