The housing market is a tale of two different experiences.

Homeowners are doing well, very well. The national median existing-home price in May was $419,300, a record dating back to 1999, according to the National Association of Realtors. (Prices aren't adjusted for inflation). The Minneapolis Area Realtors reported the median sales prices in May in the Twin Cities was $385,000.

Through the past four years, average home equity among owners with mortgages is up by some $119,000. Thanks to the low interest rates environment in the years before the recent surge in inflation, many homeowners with mortgages are paying less on their debt service as a percentage of income than at any time since the 1980s.

The story of potential buyers — including first-time homebuyers, longtime renters looking to buy and employees eager to take a job in another city or county — is rife with barriers to ownership. Even though mortgage rates are down from their recent peak, the combination of high rates and high prices has pushed the finances of homeownership out of reach for many. The underlying problem is a lack of supply. The Minneapolis Area Realtors report for May noted despite recent gains in inventory, it would take about 20,000 active listings to achieve a balanced market. There are currently under 8,000.

There are some signs buyers are starting to see a better market. Mortgage rates should come down more along with inflation rates. Sellers are running into price resistance, especially with higher-priced homes. Local governments are making greater efforts to remove supply barriers, including zoning changes to encourage a broader range of housing types. (Much more needs to be done, however.)

The demand is there, and the supply of homes will continue to expand, although much more slowly than desirable for potential buyers and local economic health.

Since you can't predict the future course of home prices, potential buyers should focus on what they can control: their finances. Is your job stable, and if you lose your job, can you land another one quickly? Is your credit score healthy? Do you have savings to pay for the down payment, closing costs and moving expenses? Will you live in the home for at least five years?

If the answers to questions like these is "yes," then go shopping. If not, it's better to wait. There is nothing good to say about being house poor.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, "Marketplace"; commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.