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Boston Downtown Condos: Are you using your home as ATM?

Freddie Mac recently released their Quarterly Refinance Statistics report which covers refinances through 2020. The report explains that the dollar amount of cash-out refinances was greater in 2020 than in recent years. A cash-out refinance, as defined by Investopia, is:

“a mortgage refinancing option in which an old mortgage is replaced for a new one with a larger amount than owed on the previously existing loan, helping borrowers use their home mortgage to get some cash.”

The Freddie Mac report led to articles like the one published by The Real Deal titled, House or ATM? Cash-Out Refinances Spiked in 2020, which reports:

“Americans treated their homes like ATMs last year, withdrawing $152.7 billion amid a cash-out refinancing spree not seen since before the 2008 financial crisis.”

Whenever you combine the terms “spiked,” “homes like ATMs,” and “financial crisis,” it conjures up memories of the housing crash we experienced in 2008.

However, that comparison is invalid for three reasons:

1. Americans are sitting on much more home equity today.

Boston real estate

Boston real estate

Mortgage data giant Black Knight just issued information on the amount of tappable equity U.S. homeowners with a mortgage have. Tappable equity is the amount of equity available for homeowners to use and still have 20% equity in their home. Here’s a graph showing the findings from their report:In 2006, directly before the crash, tappable home equity in the U.S. topped out at $4.6 trillion. Today, that number is $7.3 trillion.

As Black Knight explains:

“At year’s end, some 46 million homeowners held a total $7.3 trillion in tappable equity, the largest amount ever recorded…That’s an increase of more than $1.1 trillion (+18%) since the end of 2019, the largest percentage gain since 2013 and – you guessed it – the largest dollar value gain in history, to boot. All in all, it works out to roughly $158,000 on average per homeowner with tappable equity, up nearly $19,000 from the end of 2019.”

2. Homeowners cashed-out a much smaller amount this time.

In 2006, Americans cashed-out a total of $321 billion. In 2020, that number was less than half, totaling $153 billion. The $321 billion made up 7% of the total tappable equity in the country in 2006. On the other hand, the $153 billion made up only 2% of the total tappable equity last year.

3. Fewer homeowners tapped their equity in 2020 than in 2006.

Freddie Mac reports that 89% of refinances in 2006 were cash-out refinances. Last year, that number was less than half at 33%. As a percentage of those who refinanced, many more Americans lowered their equity position fifteen years ago as compared to last year.

Over the last six years, we have experienced strong price appreciation in downtown Boston condos which has increased home equity levels dramatically. As the number of “cash-out” refinances begins to approach numbers last seen during the crash, some are afraid that we may be repeating last decade’s mistake.

However, a closer look at the numbers shows that Boston Midtown homeowners are being much more responsible with their home equity this time around.

What happened then…

When real estate values began to surge last decade, people started using their homes as personal ATMs.  Boston Beacon Hill condos homeowners would refinance their condominiums and convert their equity into instant cash (known as “cash-out” refinances). Because homes were appreciating so rapidly, many homeowners tapped into their equity multiple times.

This left homeowners with little-or-no equity left in their homes, so when prices started to fall many homeowners found their houses in a negative equity situation (where the mortgage amount was greater than the value of the home). When some of these homeowners saw that there was no value left in their houses, they just stopped paying their mortgages altogether.

Banks eventually foreclosed on those homes and the foreclosures drove prices down even further and put more homes in the negative equity category. This cycle continued, leading to the worst housing crash in almost one hundred years.

What’s happening now…

Again, Americans are seeing their home equity grow. Today, over 48% of all single-family homes in the country have over 50% equity, and yes, some families are tapping into that equity. However, this time around, homeowners are not doing making irresponsible decisions. According to the latest information from Freddie Mac, the total equity being “cashed out” is a fraction of what it was leading up to the crash. Here are the numbers:

Boston condos for sale

Boston condos for sale

 

Boston Real Estate and the Bottom Line

It’s true that many Americans liquidated a portion of the equity in their homes last year for various reasons. However, less than half of them tapped their equity compared to 2006, and they cashed-out less than one-third of that available equity. Today’s cash-out refinance situation bears no resemblance to the situation that preceded the housing crash.

The recklessness that accompanied the build-up in equity prior to the last crash does not exist today. That makes this housing market much more secure than the one we had heading into 2008

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John Ford, Broker
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Janet Lamb, Vice President
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