Published by Kartik Subramaniam
According to one recent study, California home prices saw a major increase of 20% in April of 2021 - shattering another already impressive record and reflecting the incredible surge of activity in the market over the last two years.
In Southern California in particular, prices hit an all-time high of $655,000. Not only is that an enormous 20.2% increase over 2020, but it's also approximately $25,000 higher than the price record that was set just one month prior, in March.
But the strength of the market isn't the only thing having a significant impact on home price appreciation - far from it. Equally important is the growing net worth of the homeowners themselves.
"Net worth" is a term used to describe the total value of all of a person's assets, minus the value of all of their debts and various financial liabilities. It's an important number to know, as it's a quick way to truly understand someone's larger financial health.
It's also important to understand within the context of real estate, because the average net worth of homeowners tends to be dramatically higher than people who are renting. According to one recent study in 2019 the average net worth of people who owned homes was literally 40 times higher than those of renters. Those who fell into the former category had a median net worth of $255,000, while those who fell into the latter had a median net worth of only $6,300. As expected, this is a financial gap that has only been getting more significant since the onset of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.
But if you understand how real estate works, this actually makes a great deal of sense. Someone's home tends to be their primary source of wealth. As average home values skyrocket and houses continue to appreciate, their wealth goes up. You don't get to enjoy the same benefits if you're living in someplace like an apartment, for example.
Another important idea to understand has to do with the fact that home price appreciation and home equity are directly linked. Home equity is described as the total value of someone's interest in their current home. One of the fastest ways to build equity is to make the largest down payment that you can. If you make a down payment of over 20% (assuming you're financially able to do so), it will instantly offer more equity than it would if you had made a smaller payment.
The vast majority of all people don't purchase homes in cash - they get the necessary funds via a mortgage loan. When that loan originally begins, the financial institution who gave it to you has a much larger interest in your home than you do. But as you continue to make payments, your interest goes up while the bank's goes down until the loan has been paid off. Therefore, another way to look at home equity would be to say that it's the part of your home that you actually own - meaning a financial representation of what you've already paid off on the original loan.
Of course, real estate is a complicated topic - and home value appreciation is no exception. While the factors outlined above are certainly important, there are a number of others that will directly impact a home's price appreciation, too.
One of these are the neighborhood comps - something that a lot of homeowners in California are benefiting from right now. When similar homes in a neighborhood sell - meaning ones with similar floor plans, features or other qualities - that can absolutely cause a home to appreciate much faster. Because the real estate market across the country is so hot right now, a lot of people are finding that their homes are growing in value much faster than they otherwise would have had things been more stagnant.
Location is also another factor that impacts home price appreciation. The quality of the local school district, the total number of desirable employment opportunities, and even the distance to points of attraction like shopping or entertainment venues can all make a home's value increase.
Finally, any upgrades or updates that have been made to a home can also cause the value to appreciate. This is especially true in older homes that may have already had outdated features.
If you own a home in Los Angeles with a current estimated value of between $150,000 and $250,000, for example, choosing to remodel your kitchen could add between $19,000 and $23,000 to the value of your home immediately after the project is completed. Adding a bedroom could add between $8,000 and $10,000, and even adding just a full bathroom could add between $1,900 and $2,300. Obviously, how much value certain upgrades will add depends largely on the area of the country where you live.
In the end, understand that home price appreciation is still somewhat at the mercy of the local market. If someone is buying in a buyer's market, they'll be able to negotiate on the price of a home far easier than they would if it were a seller's market for obvious reasons. But the good news is that in California in particular, home prices are expected to continue appreciating for the foreseeable future - a trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
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