You’ve probably seen some of the reports during the past month about home sales and prices. Housing is hot.
• New home sales in May were almost 30 percent higher than a year ago, and average prices jumped by about 10 percent during the past 12 months to $308,000.
• Resales of homes were up by 13 percent in May over May 2012. Median prices increased by 15.4 percent, the sixth straight month of double digit gains and the largest monthly advance since October 2005.
• Median prices of new listings in some cities where inventories of homes listed for sale are tight and multiple bidding situations are routine have gone off the charts. In the Los Angeles-Long Beach area, list prices were nearly 28 percent higher in May than the year before, according to data compiled by Realtor.com from local multiple listing services. In San Diego, median list prices were 21 percent higher. Washington D.C., 18.8 percent. Seattle, nearly 18 percent. Charlotte, N.C., 11 percent.
But one key housing number that hasn’t gotten as much attention – yet directly affects the financial health of millions of Americans – is home equity. Thanks to the big gains in home values, total home equity balances have grown by more than $2 trillion within the past 12 months to nearly $9.1 trillion, a 28.6 percent gain, according to the Federal Reserve.
That’s $2.5 trillion above where it was at the end of 2011, but still below the $10 trillion it hit in 2007, on the eve of the market crash. During the last three months of 2012 alone, total home equity grew by a stunning $816 billion.
Numbers like these may be hard to get your head around, but they can be distilled down to the personal level: Home equity is the value of your home minus all the debt you have against it – generally first mortgages, junior liens and equity credit lines. If your house is worth $400,000 and your mortgage is $200,000, you’ve got positive equity of $200,000. If your home is worth $200,000 and your debt is $400,000 you’ve got $200,000 of negative equity. If you were at $60,000 negative equity three years ago, and the resale value of your home has gained by $70,000 plus you’ve paid down $5,000 in principal balance on your mortgage, you now have positive net equity of $15,000. That’s what’s happening across the country as real estate markets rebound from five years of recession.