It's a good time to buy a home or invest in a property.

That record-setting level beat the last record high of 72.5 percent set during the first quarter of 2009. It was also the eighth consecutive quarter that the index has been above 70 percent. Until 2009, the HOI rarely topped 65 percent and never reached 70 percent.

Today's report shows that housing affordability at the end of 2010 was at its highest level since we started computing the HOI, said Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Unfortunately, tight money makes it tough to take advantage of low prices, likely to get even lower.

However, while this is good news for consumers, both home buyers and builders continue to confront extremely tight credit conditions, and this remains a significant obstacle to many potential home sales, Nielsen added.

Where the bargains are

With 93.5 percent of all homes sold affordable to households earning the area's median family income, the Indianapolis-Carmel, IN area was the nation's most affordable large housing market.

Also ranking near the top of the most affordable major metro housing markets were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA; Syracuse, NY; Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, MI; and Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, MI.

With so many distressed properties on the market, housing affordability has jumped to levels not seen in 20 years.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) for the fourth quarter 2010, reveals that 73.9 percent of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400.

Affordability was even higher in the smaller housing market of Elkhart-Goshen, IN, where 97.0 percent of homes sold during the fourth quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning a median income of $58,600.

Other smaller housing markets with exceptionally affordable homes were Lansing-East Lansing and Bay City MI; Kokomo, IN and Mansfield, OH.

Where the bargains aren't

The least affordable major markets were New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ. In New York, only 25.5 percent of all homes sold during the quarter were affordable to those earning the area's median income of $65,600.

Other major metro areas near the bottom of the affordability index were in California -- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale; and Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, as well as and Honolulu, HI.

But housing in California markets may be as affordable as it's going to get if investor buying in January 2011 is any indication.

Real estate information service DataQuick reported the median sale price of single-family homes in San Mateo County in January saw the biggest yearly price decline since June 2009 while the adjacent Santa Clara County's (Silicon Valley) home prices remained flat on an annual basis.

Cash buyers, typically investors, made up more than 25 percent of January's buyers for all types of homes in Santa Clara County, a record in DataQuick statistics going back to 1988. In San Mateo County, 25.4 percent of buyers were making all-cash deals, compared to the record 25.3 percent set in February 2010.

Absentee owners, again, typically investors, made up just more than 17 percent of buyers in the two northern California counties, a record for Santa Clara County and a near record for San Mateo County.

Elsewhere in California NAHB's HOI reported the Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA area was among the least affordable smaller metro housing markets in the country during the fourth quarter.

In Santa Cruz, 45 percent of the homes were affordable to families earning the median income of $84,200.

Other small metro areas ranking near the housing affordability bottom included more California towns, San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles and Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, as well as ; Laredo, TX and Ocean City, NJ.