Almost 45% of homeowners are “equity rich”

Soaring home prices continue to serve existing homeowners, with nearly 45% of all property owners now considered equity rich, a year-over-year jump that boosted 13% more homeowners into the prime position.

A homeowner is considered equity rich when they have at least 50% equity in their home, a feat more easily accomplished when skyrocketing home price appreciation widens the gap between what someone owes on their mortgage and the value of their house.

About 44.9% of mortgaged residential properties in the first quarter of 2022 had at least 50% equity in their property, according to ATTOM. The portion of mortgaged homes that were equity rich rose from 41.9% in the fourth quarter of 2021 and from 31.9% during the same period in 2021. 

“Homeowners continue to benefit from rising home prices,” Rick Sharga, executive vice president of market intelligence for ATTOM, said in a statement. “Record levels of home equity provide financial security for millions of families, and minimize the chance of another housing market crash like the one we saw in 2008. But these higher home prices and rising interest rates make it extremely challenging for first time buyers to enter the market.”

In the first quarter of 2022, just 3.2% of mortgaged homes, or one in 31, were considered seriously underwater – meaning the owner owed at least 25% more than the property’s estimated market value. While that figure is largely unchanged from the 3.1% of seriously underwater homes in the prior quarter, it was a marked improvement from 2021’s 4.7%, or one in 21 properties. 

The decade-long housing marketing boom, which continued from late 2021 into early 2022, largely has been attributed to the rise in home equity. But across the country, the median home price rose 2% during that period – to another record of $320,500, according to ATTOM. Market analysts say a glut of home buyers chasing a historically tight supply of properties also brought up prices even higher.

ATTOM expects the latest home equity trend to slow in the remaining months of this year. 

“It’s likely that equity will continue to grow through the rest of 2022, although home price increases should moderate as the year goes on,” Sharga said. “Rising interest rates, the highest inflation in 40 years, and the ongoing supply chain disruptions due to the war in Ukraine are likely to weaken demand and slow down home price appreciation.”

Nationwide, 45 states saw equity rich levels rise from the fourth quarter of 2021. However, at the same time, the percentage of mortgaged homes that were seriously underwater increased in 28 states. 

Idaho had the highest level of equity-rich properties with 68.8%, while Vermont (68%), Utah (63.6%) and Washington (60.9%) followed. Meanwhile, Mississippi ranked first for having the country’s biggest portion of mortgages seriously underwater at 17%. It was trailed by Louisiana (11.3%) and Wyoming (10%).

~ Connie Kim, Housing Wire

Is a more “normal” market coming?

For the fifth consecutive month, pending home sales declined in March from February, down 1.2%, signaling a potential return to “much calmer” conditions, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Only the northeast region saw an increase in pending sales in March from February, according to an NAR news release based off data from its pending home sales index. But compared to the prior year, “pending sales fell for the 10th consecutive month, by 8.2%, with pending sales down across all regions.”

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR, said the dip in contract signings suggests “multiple offers will soon dissipate and be replaced by much calmer and normalized market conditions.”

He also expects higher mortgage rates to remain a key factor affecting home sales.

Yun forecasts the 30-year fixed mortgage rate will reach 5.3% by the fourth quarter, resulting in a 2022 mortgage rate average of 4.9%. The average mortgage rate should jump to 5.4% by 2023, Yun said.

“As it stands, the sudden large gains in mortgage rates have reduced the pool of eligible homebuyers, and that has consequently lowered buying activity,” Yun said. “The aspiration to purchase a home remains, but the financial capacity has become a major limiting factor.”

Yun additionally expects inflation will average 8.2% for the year, “although it will start to moderate to 5.5% in the second half of this year.” As of March the higher mortgage rates and sustained price appreciation has resulted in a year-over-year increase of 31% in mortgage payments – although major Sun Belt metros such as Tampa, Phoenix and Las Vegas have seen increases closer to 50% year-over-year.

Despite that, Yun said: “Overall existing-home sales this year look to be down 9% from the heated pace of last year. Home prices are in no danger of decline on a nationwide basis, but the price gains will steadily decelerate such that the median home price in 2022 will likely be up 8% from last year.”

Renters will face similar increases, which Yun says could prompt some renters to explore ownership – although the increasing mortgage rates may price them out.

“Fast-rising rents will encourage renters to consider buying a home, though higher mortgage rates will present challenges,” Yun said. “Strong rent growth nonetheless will lead to a boom in multifamily housing starts, with more than 20% growth this year.”

Even as home inventory remains low, Yun also expects single-family homebuilders to take a cautionary approach, resulting only in a modest “boost to construction of less than 5%.”

~ Kate Douglas, HWMedia

Rates, prices & Inventory up in Seattle

Rising mortgage rates and high home prices mean prospective buyers in Seattle should brace for a financial one-two punch if they plan to purchase a home this spring, but a surge in inventory should keep the city’s housing market humming through the summer.

These findings were laid out in the latest monthly report from Zillow, which said the value of a typical Seattle home has risen nearly 25% since last year. The average price for a home in the city is now $771,631, the report said. If that shocks you, just wait until you hear how much mortgage rates have grown during the same time.

“Higher mortgage rates were anticipated this year, but the speed of their rise has been breathtaking,” said Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow, in a news release.

In Seattle, homeowners are paying 42.8% more on their monthly mortgages than they were a year ago. The current average mortgage price — $3,009 per month, based on a 30-year mortgage with a 20% down payment — is 21.1% higher than it was at the start of 2022.

By applying these figures to the real world, we see that — in a typical scenario — a Seattle homebuyer could spend $154,326 on a down payment and have their first $3,009 mortgage payment due roughly 30 days later. Conventional wisdom says these steep upfront costs would likely push would-be buyers out of the market, but another factor highlighted in the Zillow report explains why that might not happen.

Inventory, which has been dreadfully low through most of the coronavirus pandemic, is on the rise. While the number of available homes in Seattle is still 17.7% lower than it was a year ago, that figure has grown 37.5% since February.

More inventory means less competition, which keeps already staggering costs lower than they would be if there were fewer houses available. The Zillow report shows that, despite high base prices for homes and mortgages, people in Seattle are still willing to purchase a house — newly pending sales are up nearly 34% since February.

“March was the biggest test yet of whether enough buyers can meet the new asking prices to keep home values growing at a record pace, and the answer was ‘So far, yes,’” Tucker said. “There will be a point when the cost of buying a home deters enough buyers to bring price growth back down to Earth, but for now, there is plenty of fuel in the tank as home shopping season kicks into gear.”

Seattle isn’t alone in the trends detailed in the Zillow report. A typical home in the U.S. is worth 20.6% more than it was at this time last year, and average monthly mortgage payments are 38% higher. Inventory is 22.5% lower than it was last year, but that figure has grown 11.6% since February.

~ Alec Regimbal, SeattlePI

Inventory expected to rebound in 2024

The housing market is expected to return to pre-pandemic, 2019 norms — at least in terms of inventory and the share of purchases made by first-time home buyers — by 2024, according to a panel of housing market experts polled in the latest Zillow home price expectations survey.

The dwindling supply of homes for sale has been a key driver of the recent explosion in home values, which have risen 32% in the past two years. Total inventory has fallen from a monthly average of 1.6 million units in 2018 and 2019 to just over 1 million in 2021, and monthly figures in 2022 are lower still.

Inventory should return to a monthly average of 1.5 million units or higher in 2024, according to the largest group (38%) of respondents to Zillow’s survey. But many are more optimistic — the second-largest group (36%) believes supply will bounce back to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, while 2025 earned the third-highest share of votes with 12%.

“Inventory and mortgage rates will determine how far and how fast home prices will rise this year and beyond,” said Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker. “We are seeing new listings returning to the market, slowly, as we enter the hottest selling season of the year, but this supply deficit is going to take a long time to fill.”

Return of the first-time home buyer
The pandemic ushered in record-breaking price growth alongside rent hikes that made saving for down payments even more difficult. As a result, the share of first-time home buyers dropped from 45% in 2019 to 37% in 2021, according to a Zillow survey of recent buyers.

First-time buyers should regain their pre-pandemic share of the market in a couple of years, according to the majority of experts polled, with 26% pointing to 2024, and 25% liking 2025. Eighteen percent of the experts polled did not believe the share of first-time buyers will rise above 45% until after 2030, despite Millennials — the largest U.S. generation ever — aging well into their prime home-buying years before that time.

Inflation considerations
Inflation has already begun eroding the bottom lines of American households, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics noting rising costs for energy, housing and food as prime factors driving it to a four-decade high.

Of the six categories considered, survey participants expect energy prices to increase the most over the course of 2022, followed by house prices, residential rents and food costs. Employee wages and stock prices were ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, rounding out the list.

Price growth projections
Pulsenomics founder Terry Loebs said the panel’s average projections for home price growth in 2022 have been revised upward, from 6.6% three months ago to 9% in this survey.

“Against the backdrop of tightening Fed policy and increasing mortgage rates, this more bullish outlook for home values suggests that home inventory shortages will remain the dominant price driver this year,” Loebs said. “If price increases this year for homes, rents, energy, and food each exceed wage growth – as the panel expects – home affordability challenges will intensify further, especially for low- and moderate-income renters.”

Zillow economists forecast a 16.3% rise in typical home values from the present through December.

~Brenda Richardson, Forbes

Tempted to use your home equity?

* Rising home prices mean today’s mortgage holders also have record levels of equity.

* With interest rates poised to rise, many homeowners may want to tap those funds.

* But just because you can, that does not mean you should, experts say.

Record increases in home prices are also pushing up the amount of equity people have in their abodes. For many Americans, that means they can borrow more against what is often their biggest asset. However, financial experts caution you should think carefully before making such a move.

The average mortgage holder currently has about $185,000 in home equity to tap, which is the amount they can access while still retaining a 20% stake, according to mortgage research from Black Knight.

Homeowner equity is now an aggregate $9.9 trillion, according to Black Knight. That comes after a 35% gain in 2021 worth $2.6 trillion, the largest annual increase on record, beating a $1.1 trillion bump in 2020.

For some homeowners, the hot market has made it an attractive time to sell. Of course, those same rising prices, as well as high rents, can make it difficult for people to relocate.

Many homeowners have instead chosen to draw money from their homes, which they can traditionally do in three ways. That includes so-called cash out refinancing; home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs; and reverse mortgages, often offered through what is called home equity conversion mortgages, or HECMs.

More homeowners, particularly those age 62 and over, have been eager to extract equity from their homes amid current market conditions, research from the Urban Institute found. The combined number of those loans to seniors increased to 759,000 in 2020, from 647,000 in 2018.

That increase was driven mostly by cash out refinances, whereby a new, larger mortgage replaces the previous one. The median loan for those transactions rose to $205,000 in 2020, from $180,000 in 2018, according to the Urban Institute.

With borrowing costs expected to rise as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, that may increase the incentive for homeowners to make these transactions now.

“As interest rates rise in the coming year, you could see folks using more second lien products … to tap some of that equity when they need it,” said Karan Kaul, principal research associate at the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

“Folks already have a very low rate, and as rates rise it’s not going to be economical for most of them to refinance,” Kaul said.

As rates kick up, the market may shift from being predominantly cash out refinance transactions to more HELOCs and home equity loans in the coming years, he said.

Cash out refinances require you to refinance your entire mortgage, which may not be economical for many consumers, as their payments would likely go up. A HELOC may be a better option for someone who is remodeling their bathroom, for example, and needs to borrow only $25,000. While that may have a higher interest rate, the underlying principal on that loan is much lower, Kaul said.

“It’s an individualized, personalized calculation that has to happen at the household level,” Kaul said.

Maintain 20% equity

When deciding whether to borrow from your home, it’s important to remember that lenders typically will want you to maintain a 20% equity stake, said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

“By and large, this is not 2005, when you can pull out every last nickel of equity that you have,” McBride said.

Exercise caution consolidating debts

Current credit card rates are hovering at around 16%, according to Bankrate, while mortgage rates are around 4%.

McBride cautions against consolidating your credit card debts with a home equity loan as a permanent solution. If the debt was the result of a one-time event, like a medical bill or period of unemployment, it can be helpful. But if it’s indicative of your lifestyle, chances are you will still run up a balance under a home equity loan.

“If you haven’t solved the problem that produced the credit card debt in the first place, you’re just moving around deck chairs on the Titanic,” McBride said.

Consider improving your home

Home improvement projects may also be a reason to tap your home equity.

“If I add another bedroom and a bathroom and a pool, the value of that is instantly higher than what you can buy for, not to mention the enjoyment that you’ll get along the way,” said Charles Sachs, a certified financial planner and chief investment officer at Kaufman Rossin Wealth in Miami.

While some of Sachs’ high-net-worth clients have pursued these transactions for home improvements or even invest in higher yielding investments, these strategies are not for everyone, he warns.

You should be financially savvy and have the ability to take on risk, he said.

Moreover, it is impossible to know when the absolute bottom to borrow will be. Still, we may look back in five years and be envious of current interest rates, he said.

~ Lori Knish, CNBC

Applications for mortgages decreased to lowest level in over 2 years

Total mortgage applications decreased 13.1% last week to the lowest level since December 2019

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($647,200 or less) increased to 4.06% from 4.05%

Applications to refinance dropped 15% weekly and were 56% lower than one year ago.

Climbing mortgage rates are hitting both potential homebuyers and refinance candidates. Total mortgage applications decreased 13.1% last week to the lowest level since December 2019, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Applications to refinance dropped 15% weekly and were 56% lower than one year ago.

“Higher mortgage rates have quickly shut off refinances, with activity down in six of the first seven weeks of 2022,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($647,200 or less) increased to 4.06% from 4.05%, with points rising to 0.48 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment.

Those higher mortgage rates combined with high prices and low inventory pushed applications to purchase a home down 10% weekly and 6% lower than one year ago. This was the third straight week of declines for purchase applications.

The average purchase loan size in the MBA weekly survey didn’t increase, but at $450,200, it stayed very close to the survey’s record high of $453,000, which was hit the week that ended Feb. 11.

Home prices have been climbing steadily and didn’t let up in 2021. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index was released Tuesday, and 2021 registered the highest calendar-year increase in 34 years, according to Craig J. Lazzara, managing director at S&P DJI. Prices nationally were up 18.8% in 2021 versus a 10.4% gain in 2020.

Rising mortgage rates will pose a challenge for some buyers, likely leading to less demand. Lazzara predicts that price growth will soon slow in reaction to higher rates.

“We have previously suggested that the strength in the U.S. housing market is being driven in part by a change in locational preferences as households react to the COVID pandemic,” Lazzara said. “More data will be required to understand whether this demand surge simply represents an acceleration of purchases that would have occurred over the next several years rather than a more permanent secular change. In the short term, meanwhile, we should soon begin to see the impact of increasing mortgage rates on home prices,” he said. 

~Lisa Rizzolo, CNBC

Housing inventory plunges in November to new low

Shopping for a new home in late November most likely gave frustrated buyers little to be thankful for as demand for homes continued to outpace supply.

The number of homes for sale hit an all-time low during the week ending November 28, according to a new report from Redfin, a technology-powered real estate brokerage. During that period, sustained demand pushed the median home price to another record high, and a third of homes sold in one week or less.

“The number of homes for sale typically declines another 15% in December,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “That means that by the end of the year, there will likely be 100,000 fewer homes for sale than there were in February when housing supply last hit rock bottom. I think more new listings will hit the market in the new year, but there will also be a long line of buyers who are queuing up right now.”

“Meanwhile, headlines and new restrictions related to the omicron variant of the coronavirus might fuel some uncertainty and volatility in the economy,” said Fairweather. “In the short term, global interest rates, including mortgage rates, could fall. In this extremely tight housing market, we would quickly see a proportional increase in competition and home prices.”

Key housing market takeaways

  • The median home-sale price hit a new all-time high of $360,375, up 14% year over year. This was up 31% from the same period in 2019 and up 1.5% from a month earlier, far greater than the 0.2% increase seen during the same period last year.
  • Asking prices of newly listed homes were up 12% from the same time a year ago and up 27% from 2019 to a median of $349,750.
  • Pending home sales were up 8% year over year, and up 49% compared to the same period in 2019.
  • New listings of homes for sale were down 4% from a year earlier, but up 12% from 2019. During the seven-day period ending November 28, active listings (the number of homes listed for sale at any point during the period) fell to a new all-time low. For the four-week period, active listings fell 23% from 2020 and 42% from 2019.
  • 45% of homes that went under contract had an accepted offer within the first two weeks on the market, above the 39% rate of a year earlier and the 28% rate in 2019. Since the four-week period ending September 19, the share of homes under contract within two weeks is up 2.3 percentage points. During the same time in 2019, the share fell 3.1 points.
  • 33% of homes that went under contract had an accepted offer within one week of hitting the market, up from 27% during the same period a year earlier and 18% in 2019. Since the four-week period ending September 12, the share of homes under contract within a week is up 2.9 percentage points. During the same time in 2019, the share fell 2.3 points.
  • Homes that sold were on the market for a median of 25 days, down from 31 days a year earlier and 46 days in 2019.
  • 43% of homes sold above list price, up from 35% a year earlier and 21% in 2019.
  • On average, 3.8% of homes for sale each week had a price drop, up 0.7 percentage points from the same time in 2020 and up 0.2 points from this time in 2019.
  • The average sale-to-list price ratio, which measures how close homes are selling to their asking prices, was 100.5%. In other words, the average home sold for 0.5% above its asking price.

Brenda Richardson, Forbes

Mortgage rates at lowest levels since late Sept.

  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances decreased to 3.16% from 3.24%.
  • Refinance demand rose 7% last week from the previous week.
  • Mortgage applications to purchase a home increased 3% for the week but were 4% lower than the same week one year ago.

Mortgage rates fell for the second straight week last week, and that helped boost refinance demand for the first time in a while. As a result, total mortgage application volume rose 5.5% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($548,250 or less) decreased to 3.16% from 3.24%, with points remaining unchanged at 0.34 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. The rate is now down 14 basis points in the past two weeks, but still 18 basis points higher than the same week one year ago.

Refinance demand, which is highly sensitive to weekly rate moves, rose 7% last week from the previous week. It was, however, 28% lower year over year. The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 63.5% of total applications from 61.9% the previous week.

“Although overall activity remains close to January 2020 lows, homeowners acted on the decrease in rates,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. “Additionally, the average loan balance for a refinance application was the highest in a month.”

Mortgage applications to purchase a home increased 3% for the week but were 4% lower than the same week one year ago. The housing market is well into its slower season, and while demand is stronger than usual, homebuyers are still facing a lean and pricey market. The brief drop in rates may have brought some buyers back, but given how high the costs are today, it didn’t give them much more purchasing power.

Mortgage rates did drop slightly lower to start this week. They are now at the best levels since late September.

~Diana Olick, CNBC

Shortage of homes for sale likely to outlast other scarcities

The scarcity of properties that plagued the housing market long before Covid-19 struck the U.S. likely will outlast other pandemic shortages, according to Goldman Sachs economists.

While the supply-chain disruptions impacting the availability of appliances, used cars and computer chips will ease as the pandemic ebbs, real estate won’t be so lucky, the report said.

“Of all the shortages afflicting the US economy, the housing shortage might last the longest,” the economists, led by Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jan Hatzius, said in the report earlier this month. “While the supply of homes for sale has increased modestly since the spring, it remains well below pre-pandemic levels and the outlook offers no quick fixes for the shortage.”

The headwinds facing homebuilders trying to expand inventory with new houses include shortages of lots, labor and building materials, the report said.

Years of under-building in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis has left the market with a dearth of about 5.2 million single-family homes, according to a report last month from realtor.com.

The lack of new houses has increased competition in the existing-home market. Housing economists use a gauge called “months supply” to measure inventory. It’s an estimate of how long it would take to sell all the properties listed if nothing else came on the market. In a balanced market, it’s typically close to 6 months.

The latest data, for September, showed the months supply at 2.6, the lowest level ever recorded for the month, according to data released last week by the National Association of Realtors.

Some relief is on the way, according to NAR’s housing forecast. Ground-breakings for single-family homes, known as housing starts, likely will total 1.15 million this year, surpassing the 1 million mark for the first time since 2007.

It would be a gain of 15% from 2020, according to Commerce Department data. But, it won’t be enough to satisfy the demand for properties boosted by a Federal Reserve bond-buying program that has kept mortgage rates near 3% since last year.

“Homebuilders continue to face headwinds that were present before the pandemic – especially a lack of construction workers and a lack of available plots to build on – and the pandemic has exacerbated those problems with further delays from supply chain disruptions, lumber shortages, and now economy-wide labor shortages,” the Goldman Sachs report said.

~Kathleen Howley, Forbes

Recent Gains in home prices break record

Home-price gains in 2021 are on pace to smash last year’s all-time high after record-low mortgage rates fueled bidding wars across the U.S., Fannie Mae said in a forecast on Friday.

Home prices probably will surge 17% this year, beating the record gain of 11% set in 2020 that surpassed the prior peak of 10% seen at the height of the real estate boom that petered out in mid-2006, the largest U.S. mortgage securitizer said.

Prices for homes began spiking last year after the Federal Reserve stepped into the bond markets in March 2020 to purchase Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to support the economy during the pandemic and prevent the type of credit crunch that crashed the U.S. financial system in 2008.

Both type of asset purchases — Treasuries and mortgage bonds — put downward pressure on rates because home-financing costs tend to track long-term Treasury yields. When the Fed became the 800-pound gorilla in the bond markets it boosted competition for the fixed assets, which resulted in investors having to accept smaller yields.

“We believe strong price appreciation is likely to continue in coming months,” Fannie Mae economists said in commentary released on Friday with the forecast. “When compared to this past spring, housing market activity has cooled, as indicated by measures such as the number of homes with multiple bids, average days on the market, and sales prices relative to asking prices. However, these indicators all remain well above the historical norm and point to a continued tight market.”

The U.S. real estate market struggled with low inventory prior to the start of the pandemic because of years of underbuilding after the 2008 financial crisis put hundreds of construction companies out of business.

Following an initial lull in the housing market during the first months of the pandemic, demand for real estate began to accelerate as Americans working from home, and often schooling their children at the kitchen table, became dissatisfied with their existing digs.

The average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage dipped below 3% for the first time ever in July 2020, four months after the Fed started buying bonds, and went on to set new records a dozen more times in 2020. The current all-time low is the 2.65% set in the first week of 2021, as measured by a Freddie Mac data series that goes back to 1971.

Lower rates typically mean buyers qualify for bigger mortgages because lenders use a formula that compares the monthly bill of the new loan, with its cheaper financing costs, against income and other debts. That sparked bidding wars for property that drove up home prices.

The rate seen in 2021’s first week is likely to stand in the record books as the bottom, Fannie Mae said. The Fed is set to begin tapering those bond purchases in November of December, according to the minutes of last month’s meeting released last week.

The average 30-year fixed rate next year probably will be 3.3%, compared with 2.9% in 2021, the mortgage giant said.

Next year, home-price appreciation is expected to slow but not fall of a cliff, according to the Fannie Mae forecast. The sale price of U.S. homes probably will gain 7.4% in 2022, Fannie Mae said.

That would beat the 3.3% average annual appreciation seen in the decade before the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Kathleen Howley, Forbes