A year ago, New Jersey contractor Michael Mroz’s customers were focused on saving money when renovating kitchens and baths, he said. Now, with a resurgence of home equity lending, they’re ready to pay for the best.
“People don’t want granite countertops — they want marble costing at least 25 percent more,” said Mroz, owner of Michael Robert Construction in Westfield, an affluent town less than an hour’s commute to Manhattan. “Money is so cheap today, people can splurge on $1,000 faucets.”
Spending on home renovations is rising to records as banks such as Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) increase lending for home equity lines of credit, or Helocs, after property prices this year gained at a pace not seen since the last housing boom. Heloc originations could rise 16 percent this year and reach another five-year high in 2014, according to Mustafa Akcay, an economist for Moody’s Analytics, powering the earnings of Home Depot Inc. (HD) and boosting the economic expansion.
Helocs are making a comeback as the housing market recovers enough to make the junior mortgages a safer bet for banks more than seven years after the beginning of the housing crash that saddled them with billions of dollars of losses. The median price for an existing home probably will gain 11 percent this year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, after plunging about 33 percent during the crash.
“The biggest use of Helocs is renovations, and the biggest spur for renovations is Helocs,” said Kermit Baker, director of Harvard University’s Remodeling Futures program in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “When the two fuel each other, it has an enormous impact on the economy.”
After home prices began rising in 2012, the number of Americans with negative home equity — those who owe more on their properties than they are worth — began tumbling. At the beginning of last year, that was the case with almost 16 million home loans. By the third quarter of this year, that number had dropped to 10.8 million, property data firm Zillow Inc. said in a report last week.
“There is an increase in the amount people are willing to spend on their homes as the values go up,” said Joe Emison, chief technology officer at BuildFax, a real estate data company. “A lot of them feel in a better position today as the job market and the economy has improved.”
Helocs typically are held by banks in their mortgage portfolios rather than being sold in the secondary market to be securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, common for primary home loans, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com, a mortgage data firm in Riverdale, New Jersey.