Homeowner a misnomer

From the Hartford Courant:

The Cash-Cow Myth

Homeowners started losing hold of their homes years before spiking foreclosures and the housing slump slammed the economy.

Piece by piece, some gave away their homes by tapping equity to take cash out to pay for cars, weddings and vacations. Others never owned one brick. During the country’s most recent housing boom, the term “homeowner” became a misnomer as lenders offered 100 percent or more home financing to some buyers.

Now, slipping home prices threaten to further erode the value of many Americans’ single largest asset, curbing consumer spending and jeopardizing retirement assets.

Thanks in large part to mortgage-related tax deductions and a drumbeat of advice that everyone should own their home, the U.S. homeownership rate rose steadily in recent decades. It peaked at 69.2 percent in 2004 before backing down to 68.2 percent at the end of the third quarter, according to the Census Bureau, which has collected the data since 1965.

But that small decline masks a much larger plunge in the amount of equity homeowners hold. This figure, equal to the percentage of a home’s market value minus mortgage-related debt, fell to an average of 51.7 percent at the end of the second quarter, down from 62 percent at the end of 1990, the Federal Reserve reported, even as the average home value surged 139 percent during that period.
The drop in average value is particularly bad news for homeowners who treated their homes as piggy banks instead of as savings accounts. They drained $468.7 billion out of their homes in 2004 through home equity loans or cash-out refinancings, according to a report this year from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and Fed senior economist James Kennedy. Fifty-eight percent of that cash went to home improvements and personal spending, while another 27 percent paid off credit card debt.

They felt confident that housing prices would continue to rise, replenishing the equity they took out.

“To deal with your single biggest asset like that is risky,” said Jim Gaines, research economist at The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. “Those things should be paid for by current earnings, not savings, which is what your house is.”

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1 Response to Homeowner a misnomer

  1. Apple trumps PCs says:

    Let’s be clear…unless you have no mortgage, you are a home “ower”, not a home “owner”. The holder of the note on the property owns both you and the house until paid off or foreclosed.

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