From the WSJ:
American homeowners are finally digging out of the hole created by the housing crisis. But their housing wealth is playing a much smaller role in the overall economy than it did before the downturn.
Home equity has roughly doubled to $12.1 trillion since house prices hit bottom in 2011, according to the Federal Reserve. As a result, a key gauge of housing wealth—homeowners’ equity as a share of real-estate values—is nearing the point seen a decade ago, before the downturn.
Such a level once would have offered a double-barreled boost to the economy by providing owners with more money to tap and making them feel more flush and likely to spend. But today, that newfound wealth has had little effect on behavior. While the traditional ways Americans tap their home equity—home-equity loans, lines of credit and cash-out refinances—are higher than last year, they are still depressed.
Home equity’s effect on consumer spending is at its lowest ebb since the early 1990s, according to Moody’s Analytics. The research firm estimates that every $1 rise in home equity in the fourth quarter of 2014 would translate to about two cents of extra consumer spending over the next 1 to 1½ years. That was a third of the impact home equity had before the bust, Moody’s said.
The impact is more muted now despite the fact that home equity per homeowner has roughly doubled. At the end of the second quarter, the figure was about $156,700, up from $81,100 in the second quarter of 2011, according to Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi. Though the homeownership rate has fallen, the total number of households has increased, meaning the number of households that own hasn’t changed much since the housing bubble burst in 2006, Mr. Zandi said.
Why aren’t homeowners feeling flush again? For one thing, since rising home prices over the past few years largely have made up for ground lost during the recession, many owners might not even realize they have equity to tap.
The percentage of homeowners who were underwater, or owing more on their mortgage than the home’s value, dropped to 8.7% by mid-2015 from 21% at the end of 2011, according to CoreLogic. Yet the percentage of homeowners who thought they were underwater fell by merely one percentage point to 27%, according to housing-finance company Fannie Mae.
“Consumers are definitely more conservative financially than they were 10 years ago. They’ve seen that house prices can be volatile,” Mr. Duncan said.
“We’re at an inflection point,” Mr. Zandi said. “Since the crash, it’s all been about repairing homeowners’ equity but now that house prices are returning to prerecession levels, we will see homeowners’ equity driving consumer spending, home improvements and economic activity.”