In March 2014, Steven and Bernadette Doherty paid $183,000 for a two-bedroom home in Charlotte, North Carolina, $6,000 more than its appraised value. Today, similar houses in the neighborhood are being priced at $300,000 or more.
“We bought at the right time,” said Bernadette, a retired Wells Fargo & Co. information technology worker. “In retrospect, we were lucky as prices have gone up so much more.”
Home-price appreciation is a welcome development for households whose nest eggs were shattered by the residential real-estate bust that began a decade ago.
The 2006-2009 housing slump reduced wealth by $7 trillion. Since then, the value of homeowners’ equity in real estate has almost doubled from a low in the first quarter of 2009, Federal Reserve data show. What’s more, housing wealth is poised to reach a new record as early as the second quarter, say economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and Pantheon Macroeconomics Ltd.
Improving property values are allowing homeowners to shake off recent stock-market volatility and keep spending. From the end of 2013 through last year’s third quarter, home equity climbed 20 percent compared with a 4 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
“The increase in housing wealth is a kind of stealth offset to falling stock prices,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, who predicts record home equity values next quarter. “Home ownership is much wider than stock ownership. The consumption effect from a given rise in holdings has been bigger for homes.”
Some cities, including Charlotte, are already seeing prices at all-time highs. Home values in Dallas, Denver, and San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, all hit records in December, while they’re down less than 1 percent in Boston from an August peak, according to S&P/Case-Shiller indexes. About 38 percent of 87 U.S. metropolitan areas were in record territory last year, data tracker RealtyTrac figures show.
The housing bust, and the resulting recession that was the worst since the 1930s, has prompted 5.6 million American households to lose homes through foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac. At it’s worse, more than a quarter of homeowners had paper losses as their mortgages exceeded the value of their properties.
With some buyers having made minimal down payments, it only took small price declines to leave mortgages under water. Now, with the recovery in home values, that carnage has dissipated. Foreclosures were filed on just 95,186 properties in January, an almost 10-year low, RealtyTrac data show.