The scale between those who can afford to buy a home and those who can't tilts at the $10,000-mark.
During 1986, those who bought homes in 14 major housing markets throughout the nation had median family incomes of $46,620; the median income of the population in their respective areas--their neighbors'--was $36,000.
But even during a year when home mortgage rates were in the single-digit range, earning power was only half the story on affordability.
A decade ago, when the housing market boomed and camp-outs and lotteries followed, first-time buyers made up about 45% of the traffic. Now, that segment represents only 10% and is becoming a much less significant factor in the industry.
All this translates into a widening gap between those who can and those who cannot afford to buy a home in today's market, or the "haves" and the "have-nots."
"The market continues to tilt toward repeat buyers who have built up equity in property in earlier periods and, as a result, are less affected by the affordability issue," says John Pfister, vice president of market research for Chicago Title Co.
"Owning property that can be 'traded up' has become an increasingly important part of 'having' in today's world."
In the 11th annual survey of home buyers by the national title insurer, median incomes for the Los Angeles and Orange County markets are placed about $7,000 higher than the $46,620 national median. Otherwise, the trend followed the countrywide pattern of buyers reporting much higher incomes than the general population.
The median family income of buyers in Los Angeles was $53,920 and $52,500 in Orange County.
The survey showed also that having a working spouse usually puts the family into the "have" category.
Among buyers with incomes in the $60,000-plus group, 83.4% were families with two paychecks. Six of 10 buyers reported family incomes of $40,000 or more, and almost 30% reported family income of $60,000 or more.
Only 20% of all home buyers in 1986 reported family incomes of $30,000 or less.
For all buyers, the median home price was $93,680, but the average selling price--total dollar volume divided by the total number of sales--was $114,000. That strongly suggests that prices are tilted toward the high end of the scale, in Pfister's view.
Locally, the pattern was the same. In Los Angeles, the median home price was $120,580, with the average price at $136,160. In Orange County, the median price was $143,260, but the average price was $157,460.
A recent caller from Ohio, preparing for a job transfer to the city of Orange, illustrated the frustration of many a would-be or first-time buyer.
She telephoned to express amazement at television news she had seen of camp-outs at the new Westpark community development by the J. M. Peters Co., in Irvine.
She wanted to confirm that what she saw wasn't a commercial in the making or a publicity stunt. No, it was for real.
"You people out there are crazy! Stand in line to buy a $175,000 home?"
Yes, just like going to Baskin-Robbins or See's Candy and pulling a ticket for your turn to be waited on.