Anyone with half an eye on the housing market over the last two decades will know that in many countries, not least the United States, it’s become much more difficult to buy a home. But a new report sums up the feeling of many potential home buyers by creating a category that labels some major cities as “impossibly unaffordable.”

The report compared average incomes with average home prices. It found that pandemic-driven demand for homes with outside space, land use policies aimed at limiting urban sprawl, and investors piling into markets had sent prices soaring. US cities on the West Coast and Hawaii occupied five of the top 10 most unaffordable places, according to the annual Demographic International Housing Affordability report, which has been tracking house prices for 20 years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most expensive US cities to buy home are in California, where San Jose, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego have all made the top 10. The Hawaiian capital of Honolulu also rates a mention in sixth place of 94 major markets surveyed in eight countries. Australia is the only other country besides the US to dominate the “impossibly unaffordable” list, led by Sydney and the southern cities of Melbourne in Victoria and Adelaide in South Australia.

But topping the global leaderboard is Hong Kong, the compact Asian financial hub known for its tiny apartments and sky-high rents. Notably, it’s the only Chinese market covered in the report. A regular entrant on the “most expensive” tables, Hong Kong has the lowest home ownership rate of all the cities surveyed, at just 51%, compared to its Asian rival Singapore where home ownership tops 89% due to the government’s decades-long commitment to public housing. Hong Kong may be the least affordable city worldwide, but potential home buyers may be encouraged to know that it’s not as unaffordable as it once was. House prices slipped during the pandemic in 2020, when the government closed the city’s borders and imposed a zero-Covid policy — that’s on top of new national security laws that have had a chilling effect on the city.

Top 10 “impossibly unaffordable” cities

  • Hong Kong
  • Sydney
  • Vancouver
  • San Jose
  • Los Angeles
  • Honolulu
  • Melbourne
  • San Francisco/Adelaide
  • San Diego
  • Toronto