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The ability of the typical American family to buy a previously owned home was boosted by low mortgage rates during the first quarter to the highest level in two years.

The National Association of Realtors said its Housing Af-ford-ability Index, which measures affordability for both first-time and trade-up buyers, was 131.6 during the first three months of the year.The latest reading, up from 129 in the October-December period and 126.9 in the first three months of 1995, was the highest since 137.4 in the first quarter of 1994.

Realtors president Art Godi attributed the boost to low mortgage rates that opened the market to first-time buyers and triggered sales of second and third homes.

When the index measures 100, a family earning the median income has exactly the amount needed to purchase a median-priced existing home, using conventional financing and a 20 percent down payment.

The median is the midpoint, meaning half of the incomes are more and half are less, or that half of the houses cost more and half cost less.

In the first quarter, the index of 131.6 meant half of the families had at least 131.6 percent of the income needed to qualify for the purchase of a home at the national median price of $114,700.