Although property prices in the Nation's Capital are higher than anywhere else in the United States except California, Washington as a whole in 1977 were no more "house poor" than the average American homeowner, a new survey by the savings and loan industry indicates.

Locally, homeowners' ratio of housing expenses to income parallel that of the rest of the country, according to a study of home-financing by the U.S. League of Savings Associations. The study reveals that median monthly paymens for housing expenses - mortgage, taxes, utilities and insurance - were 44 percent higher in 1977 in Washington than in the nation as a whole.

However, median income was also 44 percent higher. Compared with other large cities, median Washington income was 32 percent higher, monthly housing expenses, 31 percent higher.

Expenses expressed as a percentage of income were the same nationwide, 21 percent. First time Washington buyers, however, did spend more, 24 percent of income, compared with 22 percent of other first-timers.

In the survey the median expenses of the Washington homeowner totaled $578 a month on a $68,000 house. Nationwide, median expenses were $400 a month on a $44,000 home. Today average price in this area hovers at $80,000; nationally it is around $60,000, according to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. (There is approximately a $1,000 difference between the media and average home price.) A rough extrapolation would put current median monthly expenses in Washington at $680.

Of 23 metropolitan areas surveyed, only San Francisco had a higher median purchased price that year, $72,000. At the same time, median income was report to be $30,600,or 7 percent less than in greater Washington. By this standard San Franciscans, who spend $614 a month in housing expenses, or 24 percent, are more "house poor" as a group than Washingtonians.

Other differences between this area and the rest of the country showed up in higher down payments. While house prices were 55 percent higher in Washington than in the rest of the country, the median down payment was $17,500, or 94 percent higher. Washington buyers plubked down 20 percent or more of the purchase price in 87 percent of the sales while only two-thirds of the rest of the buyers nationwide paid this much at the outset.

In San Francisco, 98 percent of purchasers paid 20 percent or more down. As a result of large down payments, actual monthly mortgage payments in this area were only 42 percent higher than the national average, even though house prices were 55 percent higher.

Washingtonians pay much higher utility bills than average, even in other large cities. The median price of gas and electricity each month came to $91 here, compared with $60, elsewhere. Property taxes were 57 percent higher than in the country as a whole, only 21 percent higher than in other large cites.

Clearly the high cost of property has caused Americans to change their fiscal priorities. The study makes the point that the old rule of thumb that home buyers should not spend more than a quarter of their income for housing is out of date, particularly for lower-and-middle income groups. Two-fifths of all home buyers now spend more than that, and the participating savings and loans associations found that even one-fifth of those earnings over $25,000 spent more than 25 percent of their income on housing in 1977. Just over a third (36 percent) of all buyers spent more than a quarter of their income on housing.

The survey found that Washingtonians are rather cautious about going into debt for reasons other than home buying. Again, the old rule of thumb says that total household debt - housing plus other long-term installment debt payment such as car loans - should not exceed one-third of annual income.

In the Sun Belt high property prices are causing evend the affluent to stretch their budgets. In Houston nearly half of the home buyers exceeded that rule, while in California a third did. In Washington and New York City, however, less than fifth had debts equal to a third of their income.

Buying a first home is particularly expensive in the big city, the surveyors found. Young purchasers nationwide tend to buy cheaper, older houses, make lower down payments and rely more often on the secondary wage earner's income. In Washington, where existing houses cost more than new ones - the reverse of the nationala norm - the first-time buyer in 1977 paid 17 percent less for a house than did the repeat year.

In other metropolitan areas first timer paid 25 percent less. The same holds true for dwn payments mortgage payments and other monthly expenses, as the gap between first and repeag buyers is much narrower here than elsewhere.

The report noted that the Washingtonian buying a first home in 1977 put down $13,000, twice as much as the median for the first-time buyers in all large cities and three times greater than in small metropolitan areas. Even with the highest median income of all first time buyers in the country, the Washingtonian house stil cost 2.2 times the combined income, compared with 1.9 timies income nationwide. San Franciscans paid a national high of two-and-half times their income for a first house.

In this case the house price most likely represents two-and-half times the income of two earners. In all but the highest income bracket (over $45,000), one-fifth to one-half of these first-time home buyers would have been unable to make their purchase without the second wage earner.