May 8, 2024 - Economy

Homeowners are getting rich

The line chart shows the fluctuation in total equity on mortgaged homes in the U.S. from January 2000 to March 2024, with a significant dip in 2012 to an all-time high of $16.9 trillion.
Data: ICE; Chart: Axios Visuals

After several years of soaring house prices, U.S. homeowners are sitting on a record mountain of wealth.

Why it matters: The economy looks pretty great for Americans who own their own homes — that's nearly 66% of the population!

Driving the news: Homeowners with mortgages hold just under $17 trillion in equity, a record high, per a report out this week from Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).

Zoom in: A record $11 trillion of home equity is "tappable," meaning homeowners can borrow against it while maintaining at least 20% equity in the house, per the report, which looks at data from March.

  • About 48 million folks have access to tappable equity, with an average of $206,000 per mortgage holder.

The big picture: The American dream of homeownership, where you snag a 30-year mortgage and step onto the wealth-building ladder, is kind of dead at the moment — unless you've already bought a home.

  • Wealth overall has soared in the U.S. since the pandemic, in part because of increasing home and stock prices.

Zoom out: Rising asset prices — both stocks and housing — make consumers feel pretty good. That wealth effect is likely helping to keep consumer spending numbers healthy.

Meanwhile, because of rising mortgage rates and still-increasing home prices, buying a house is increasingly out of reach for first-time buyers.

  • It now requires 36% of the median household income to purchase a median-priced home, the ICE report notes. (30% is considered affordable.)
  • There's still a shortage of homes to buy, and that's keeping prices elevated. There were 20% fewer home listings in March compared to what was typical in 2017-2019.
  • Nearly three-quarters of renters said they believe it would be somewhat or very difficult to obtain a mortgage — up from about half in 2021, as Axios Macro reported earlier this week.

What they're saying: "[T]he continued strength of the economy has made it harder to afford a home and widened the real-estate wealth gap between rich and poor Americans," Redfin senior economist Elijah de la Campa said in a recent housing report.

The bottom line: Homeowners are getting richer and renters are getting left behind.

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