A Short Course in the Meaning of Home Equity

What is your property's equity? This topic came up just recently in a discussion, and though we think it's a basic real estate question, we can't always assume that everyone knows how it gets answered. 

Basically, equity is the amount equal to the current market value of your home, minus all your liens, or what you owe. Ideally, if you bought a house for $200,000 and your only outstanding lien is your total mortgage amount of $150,000, then you have $50,000 equity in your house.

Some people may think that because they invested a certain number of dollars in their house as a down payment, i.e., $50,000, plus their additional funds to pay for closing costs, that they will get the remainder back when they turn around and sell.

But just like the disclosures advise about deposits into investment funds, that depends on what's happened to the market values in the time you've owned the property. And what improvements you've made to the home, and how they are currently valued (but not usually by the dollar amount you spent on them). And the location, and the condition of the property, and how your property may be perceived by the target group of buyers searching at any given time for a home like yours. In addition to these "standard" value issues, we have the following:

As is well known now, property values increased greatly a few years ago, and then started to fall--all due to numerous complex global market forces. This was great for people who sold their homes on the upswing: That $200,000 house might have sold for $400,000, and the owner's gross net at the close of escrow, after paying off their loan, was approximately $250,000--before paying closing costs.

But for people who did not sell until the market went down, maybe they broke even: Perhaps their home was worth $165000 on the current market and they had just enough left over to pay off the loan and their closing costs. Or, or if their home value declined even further to $150,000, then they are digging into their pockets to pay off the $150,000 mortgage plus the extra money for additional closing costs. This why many people, possibly as much as 30% of all mortgage borrowers at the present time, are in a short sale position, or "under water" in the market value of their home. If you don't have a need to sell, then you should not be affected by the downward cycle. However, if your employment income has been affected and you cannot continue with payments and you have to sell, or you have experienced some other stressful impact to your financial status, you are most likely in a short sale situation because the market values may have decreased below your mortgage balance (which is tied to your amortization schedule, not the economy), and therefore you have no equity.
First of all, you should get a good assessment of your current home value, some people actually still have some equity, or could possibly "break even", and a short sale could be avoided. If, however, you think you might be in a distressed situation, please contact me to find out your options, or you may go to the Distressed Properties section at http://www.juliahuntsman.com/ for a few free reports.

Real estate goes in cycles, and it always has. Some are harder than others. There are many many people who, through no fault of their own, have experienced a negative equity situation or even the loss of their home. But before that happens to you, you should find out if you're able to get a loan modification, or it not, what a short sale vs. deed-in-lieu vs. foreclosure would mean for you. It will cost you nothing, and could help you from the most severe impacts and a faster recovery in the future.

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