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Home Equity Increases $1 Trillion in Five Years - Is the Market Peaking?

A new survey reveals that in the last five years, the equity in the California real estate market has increased by more than one trillion dollars. A trillion dollars is a large number to ponder, but put in concrete terms, it can be represented by a stack of one hundred dollar bills that is six hundred thirty one miles high! This astronomical increase in California home values isn't all that unique, however. Prices on the East Coast, particularly in the Washington, D.C. area, are increasing just as rapidly. There are areas on both coasts where home prices have tripled during the last five years. This, along with the dramatic increase in interest-only mortgages among homebuyers, suggests that home prices may be peaking.

In California, 35% of all mortgages written are interest-only mortgages. In Washington, the figure is a whopping 48%. With an interest-only mortgage, the homeowner pays only the interest on the home loan for the first few years of mortgage payments. After the agreed-upon period of time ends, the amount of the payment is adjusted to include a portion of the principal. This typically increases the amount of the payment by about one-third. Interest-only mortgages have gained in popularity as home prices have increased, mostly because buyers otherwise would not be able to afford to buy homes. The problem with these mortgages is that for the first few years of payments, the buyers aren't actually paying anything for the home itself!

What these statistics tell us is that in California, more than one third of buyers cannot afford a mortgage that allows them to actually contribute to paying for the home when they move in, and in Washington, the figure is nearly one half. Experts disagree on exactly when the hot real estate market will collapse, but it would seem to the casual observer that when half of all buyers can't actually afford to make payments on the home they've just purchased, the collapse may be near.

What does this mean for potential buyers? Anyone considering purchasing a home in the red-hot markets in California or on the East Coast should carefully consider whether or not they can actually afford to purchase a home. Qualifying for a loan isn't good enough if you can't actually make payments that will reduce your principal. If may be wiser to buy in a cheaper outlying area and commute. Others may wish to rent in the short term in hopes that the prices will soon decline. It is always difficult to predict which way the real estate market will go, but a market where one-third to one-half of buyers can't actually reduce their principal should set off an alarm for anyone considering a real estate purchase.

©Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing.

Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing, a firm devoted to informational Websites, including, a Website devoted to debt consolidation information and, a site devoted to information on home equity loans.


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