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Strong demand for housing last year kept home prices surging, and that means more homeowners are now sitting on more cash in the form of home equity.
Collectively, homeowners with mortgages saw their equity increase by just over 8 percent in 2018, according to CoreLogic. That is from a combination of home value gains and borrowers paying down their mortgages. It adds up to roughly $678 billion in additional wealth over the last year — or about $9,700 per homeowner.
Of course all real estate is local, and so were the gains. Homeowners in Western states saw the biggest annual increases in home equity, with Nevada homeowners now about $29,000 richer. Idaho homeowners gained close to $27,000 and Californians just short of $20,000. Washington state, New York and Florida homes also saw big equity gains. There were, however, some losses. Homeowners in North Dakota, Louisiana and Connecticut saw their equity drop.
Rising equity usually fuels the remodeling market, as people tap that extra cash to do home remodels or upgrades. Home remodeling was very strong last year, not just because of rising equity, but because homebuilders are putting up fewer homes, meaning more people are staying in older homes longer and repairing or upgrading.
"The increase in home equity over the past several years provides homeowners with the means to finance home remodels and repairs," said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic. "With rates still ultra-low by historical standards, home-equity loans provide a low-cost method to finance home-improvement spending. These expenditures are expected to rise 5 percent in 2019."
Increasing equity also helped more homeowners rise above water on their mortgages. The number of underwater properties fell 14 percent last year, as 351,000 borrowers no longer owe more on their loans than their homes are worth. There are still 2.2 million homes in a negative equity position.
"Our forecast for the CoreLogic Home Price Index predicts there will be a a 4.5 percent increase in our national index from December 2018 to the end of 2019," said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. "If all homes experience this gain, this would lift about 350,000 homeowners from being underwater and restore positive equity."
Negative equity peaked at 26 percent of mortgaged residential properties in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to CoreLogic. Just 4.2 percent of homes are currently still underwater.