Look for house price bumps in these metros

Potential homebuyers arrive to an open house in Seattle.
Mike Kane | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Potential homebuyers arrive to an open house in Seattle.

If you've been holding out for your home's value to recoup the losses from the real estate bust, your wait might soon be over.

The recent rise in American incomes means households have more money to put toward buying a home, and households in some metro areas are seeing bigger increases than others.

That could translate into increased gains in home prices in many metro areas that have so far lagged the national price rises since the housing recovery began.

The latest read on American incomes came from a release of U.S. Census Bureau data this week, which showed that the median U.S. income rose by 5.2 percent last year, the first gain since the Great Recession sent unemployment soaring and left millions of households without paycheck.

Since then, the jobless rate has been cut in half, tightening the supply of qualified workers for new jobs and prompting employers to begin paying more to attract new hires and keep existing staffers from leaving.

The single statistic for the national median income gain masks a wide range of income changes, including a marked difference from one metro area to another. Some of the biggest increases have come in cities where median incomes are lower than the 2015 national level of $56,500.

"Many of the metros that saw the highest income growth have been in places that have been slow to recover from the recession," said Trulia's chief economist, Ralph McLaughlin.

He thinks the outsized gains in many lower-income metros means they're catching up to the national growth pace, so those places aren't likely to continue to see incomes rise faster than the rest of the country.

Still, local gains in income typically translate into a pickup in home prices in a given housing market.

"As your income goes up you tend to buy a bigger house or add more space and that increases the value of your house," McLaughlin said.

The prospect of further gains in home prices will come as a relief to the estimated 4 million homeowners who are "underwater" on their mortgages and still owe more on their home than it is worth, according to CoreLogic, which tracks mortgage data.

In the past year, more than a million homeowners have escaped from the trap of so-called negative equity, which leaves them unable to sell their home without writing a big check to the bank to make up for their lost equity.

CoreLogic estimates that if home prices rise by another 5 percent, another million homeowners will recover enough lost home equity to get them out from under a mortgage that's bigger than their home is worth.