Homeowners got $2 trillion richer during the first three months of the year

Real Estate

Helen H. Richardson | Denver Post | Getty Images

Homeowners are getting richer and richer as prices keep soaring – and the numbers are staggering.

Those with mortgages — about 62% of all properties — saw their equity jump by 20% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic. This represents a collective cash gain of close to $2 trillion. Per borrower, the average gain was $33,400.

The massive gain is thanks to soaring home prices, which CoreLogic said were up over 11% in March, the end of the quarter, from a year earlier. That’s the sharpest gain since 2006. Prices rose an even stronger 13% in April.

High demand for homes spurred by the coronavirus pandemic amid an already low supply caused bidding wars in markets across the nation. Record-low mortgage rates for much of last year only added to the buying frenzy and helped fuel the price gains.

“Homeowner equity has more than doubled over the past decade and become a crucial buffer for many weathering the challenges of the pandemic,” said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “These gains have become an important financial tool and boosted consumer confidence in the U.S. housing market, especially for older homeowners and baby boomers who’ve experienced years of price appreciation.”

As of June 1, there were still just over 2 million homeowners in Covid-related mortgage bailout programs, according to the Black Knight real estate data company. As these plans begin to expire, having home equity will help those in trouble. They can still sell and get out with a potential profit if they have to.

“This reduces the likelihood for a large numbers of distressed sales of homeowners to emerge from forbearance later in the year,” CoreLogic chief economist Frank Nothaft said, adding that the average homeowner now has about $216,000 in equity.

 The share of borrowers in a negative equity position, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, consequently dropped. From the fourth quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, the total number of mortgaged homes in negative equity decreased by 7% to 1.4 million homes, or 2.6% of all mortgaged properties. Annually, the number of underwater homes dropped by 24%.

Home values are expected to cool off in coming months because buyers are already hitting an affordability wall. Sales have begun to slow, and price drops usually follow.

Home prices are not, however, expected to crash, since there is still strong demand for housing, and the demographics support that going forward. As prices moderate, buyers will come back. Unlike the last time home prices crashed, today’s mortgage underwriting is far more stringent.

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