Average Home Equity Shrinks for First Time Since 2012

Long-term values are still up but recent buyers may be flat or worse for the year.

Average Home Equity Shrinks for First Time Since 2012
Photo by Avi Waxman / Unsplash

Despite high interest rates and a volatile economy, home equity values have risen steadily over the last decade. Until now. The latest report from CoreLogic finds that homeowners with mortgages saw the value of their homes decrease by 0.7% from a year ago during the first quarter of 2023.

The CoreLogic Homeowner Equity Report (HER) found a collective loss of $108.4 billion, and an average loss of $5,400 per borrower since the first quarter of 2022. It's the first time homeowners with a mortgage have shown an equity loss since early 2012.

Western states posted the largest annual home equity losses: Washington (-$74,300), California (-$59,600) and Utah (-$37,700). The equity losses in those states reflect decelerating home prices, with all three posting annual declines in February and March, according to CoreLogic’s Home Price Index.

Despite these declines, home equity remains solid, with the number of underwater properties unchanged since the fourth quarter of 2022. And although some major metro areas saw equity decline on an annual basis, years of rapid appreciation in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have negative equity shares of 0.9%, is keeping homeowners in these metros in good standing.

“Home equity trends closely follow home price changes,” said CoreLogic Chief Economist Selma Hepp. “As a result, while the average amount of equity declined from a year ago, it increased from the fourth quarter of 2022, as monthly home prices growth accelerated in early 2023.”

“The average U.S. homeowner now has more than $274,000 in equity — up significantly from $182,000 before the pandemic,” Hepp continued. “Also, while homeowners in some areas of the country who bought a property last spring have no equity as a result of price losses, forecasted home price appreciation over the next year should help many borrowers regain some of that lost equity.”

Underwater mortgages

Negative equity, also referred to as underwater or upside-down mortgages, applies to borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are currently worth. As of the first quarter of 2023, the quarterly and annual changes in negative equity were:

  • Quarterly change: From the fourth quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023, the total number of mortgaged homes in negative equity was unchanged, remaining at 1.2 million homes or 2.1% of all mortgaged properties.
  • Annual change: From the first quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023, the total number of homes in negative equity increased by 4% from 1.1 million homes or 2% of all mortgaged properties.

Because home equity is affected by home price changes, borrowers with equity positions near (+/- 5%), the negative equity cutoff, are most likely to move out of or into negative equity as prices change, respectively. Looking at the first quarter of 2023 book of mortgages, if home prices increase by 5%, 145,000 homes would regain equity; if home prices decline by 5%, 213,000 properties would fall underwater.