As home values rise, homeowners are gaining more equity on paper — and they're taking it out in paper. Cash-out refinances jumped 68 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, according to Black Knight Financial Services. This is the highest volume of this type of refinance in five years.
"People realize that refinancing these funds is extremely inexpensive and that rates will eventually rise, so they're capitalizing on the strength of home price appreciation," said Ben Graboske, senior vice president at Black Knight Data & Analytics.
Mortgage holders have gained about $1 trillion in home equity collectively over the past year. On an individual basis, borrowers doing cash-out refinances are taking an average $65,000, which is comparable to what borrowers did in 2006, the height of the last housing boom. While the jump is significant, the volume is still nowhere near where it was back then. In fact, volume is still 80 percent below where it was at the peak in 2005.
That is not the only difference. Today's refinancer is in a far more solid equity position in his or her home, compared with borrowers then, who used their homes like ATMs, pulling out every available dollar. Even after tapping equity, the average resulting loan-to-value ratio for today's borrowers is 68 percent, meaning the borrower has only leveraged 68 percent of the home's current value. That is the lowest level in a decade.
"That reflects real strength of price appreciation and consumer sentiment," said Graboske.
The jump in cash-out refinances could be behind the strength in auto sales and home remodeling. The lack of homes for sale has caused many potential buyers to stay where they are, even though they have the equity to move up. In turn, they are using that equity to not only enhance their home but to add to its value.
Anecdotally, remodeling contractors have been swamped this year, with many putting off new projects for months just to keep up. Remodeling by owners is expected to grow about 10 percent next year, according to a new study by John Burns Real Estate Consulting. It could grow even more if interest rates rise more than expected.
"This is because more homeowners will choose to stay in place and remodel rather than abandon their current low rate mortgage by moving," according to researchers in the study.
Cash-out refinances were most popular in California, accounting for 30 percent of all volume, according to Black Knight. The next closest was Texas, accounting for 7 percent. These states have seen the most home value appreciation. Should home value appreciation slow or even flatten, those hearty loan-to-value ratios will shrink, but it is unlikely today's highly cautious, litigation-leery lenders will allow borrowers to take out more cash than is prudent.