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LOOKING FOR AN AFFORDABLE HOME? THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE LIMA, OHIO,

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Looking for a cheap house? Try Lima, Ohio, or Manchester N.H., or Brazoria, Texas, or Greeley, Colo.

The National Association of Home Builders said Thursday its survey found those cities to be the most affordable markets in each of the nation's four regions during the January-March quarter.Nationally, Lima was the most affordable market of all, and the Midwest remained the most affordable region. Lima succeeded the Saginaw-Bay City-Midland, Mich., area, the fourth-quarter leader, which fell into the No. 2 spot, the association said.

At the other extreme was San Francisco, which has held the least-affordable spot ever since the association began compiling its Housing Opportunity Index in the first quarter of 1991.

The least affordable markets in other regions were Stamford, Conn., in the Northeast; El Paso, Texas, in the South; and Kalamazoo, Mich., in the Midwest.

The association found regional trends little changed from the previous three months in its survey of 278,822 sales of new and existing homes in 202 markets.

Regionally, the Midwest was followed by the South. But 18 of the 25 most affordable markets were in the Midwest. Four others were in the Northeast, two in the South and one in the West.

The least affordable markets were mostly in the Northeast and the West, particularly California.

The West had 20 of the least affordable markets, 15 of which were in the Golden State. The other five were in the Northeast. The West also had one of the top 25 affordable markets.

Wherever they shopped, the association said most Americans found housing more affordable in the first quarter of 1993 than in the final three months of 1992.

The association said the national median home price in the January-March quarter was $105,000. National median income rose to $39,700 from $36,800 in the fourth quarter of 1992.

That meant households earning the median income could afford 64.7 percent of the homes offered for sale, up from 60 percent in the final three months of last year.

The median means half of the families earned more and half earned less, or that half of the homes cost more and half less.

"The reason for the improvement in affordability is lower interest rates," said association President J. Roger Glunt, noting that the average mortgage rate dropped to 7.57 percent from 7.76 percent in 1992's fourth quarter.

The Housing Opportunity Index measures the ability of a typical family to buy a home in its own market by comparing median family income with median home price.

Lima, for instance, had a median income of $37,900 and a median home price of $60,000.

According to the mortgage underwriting standards used for calculating the index, at the prevailing mortgage rate of 7.57 percent, a family could afford to buy a home costing 3.3 times its annual income - $125,070.

In Lima, 94.2 percent of the homes sold during the first quarter were priced at or below $125,070. That meant the area scored 94.2 on the index.

But San Francisco had a median income of $54,300 and a median home price of $280,000, meaning the typical family could afford a home costing $179,190. Only 14.3 percent of the homes sold in San Francisco were priced at or below $179,190, giving the area a 14.3 score, lowest on the index.