What is equity?
Equity is your ownership stake in the house. If your home is worth $300,000 and it’s paid off, you have have 100% equity in the home or equity of $300,000. Most people do NOT have 100% equity in their home, they may have put a 20% (or if it’s an FHA loan 3.5%) down payment and then owe the balance (80% or 96.5%). But that isn’t the end of the story. Beyond whatever your original down payment is, you can build “equity” in a home by doing what you can to improve the value of the home as well.
Most homes will increase in value over time and that means that beyond paying down principal, equity will increase as the home’s value increases because the value increase is YOURS and nothing to do with any debt to a mortgage company.
To use a very simplistic example: If a home’s value increases at 3% per year and the home was valued at $100,000 when it was purchased, the following year it would be valued at $103,000. You owe less on your loan because you’ve been paying down the principal AND if you were to sell your home would it likely get $3k more than it would the year before, and that money is yours.
Here are some ways to increase the equity in your home:
Pay more than you need to on your mortgage.
This is a great option if you don’t have debts that carry a higher interest rate than your mortgage (pay off the highest interest rate debt first), if your home appreciates faster than your 401K or if you aren’t tight on money month to month.
Talk to your lender to make sure that extra payments will go specifically toward principal and then consider either adding additional money to your payment or trying to make at least one extra payment per year.
Here is an example of interest savings and reduction in the life of the loan by making an extra payment, or simply paying a little more each month from Bankrate.com
Here’s an example of how prepaying saves money and time: Kaylyn takes out a $120,000 mortgage at a 4.5 percent interest rate. The monthly mortgage principal and interest total $608.02. Here’s what happens when Kaylyn makes extra mortgage payments:
|PAYMENT METHOD||PAY OFF LOAN IN …||TOTAL INTEREST||TOTAL INTEREST SAVED|
|Minimum every month||30 years||$98,888||$0|
|13 payments a year*||25 years, 9 months||$82,870||$16,018|
|$100 extra every month||22 years, 6 months||$70,944||$27,944|
|$50 extra every month||25 years, 8 months||$82,452||$16,436|
|$25 extra every month||27 years, 8 months||$89,864||$9,024|
|*Extra $608.02 payment|
Refinance to a shorter term loan.
People often only think in terms of a 30 year loan on a home, but you can finance a home for 15 years at a lower interest rate and pay off your home in half the time. Even better, those aren’t your only 2 choices – you can ask for any term that you like and that will make the rates work for you. Not every lender will have that flexibility, but the ones I work with have been offering off term loans as well.
One thing to consider with this option is that you will have a higher payment that you are obligated to make. You’ll be committed. In the first scenario that I mentioned where you pay a little more every month it’s voluntary and you can set it up to do so automatically so you don’t have to make that decision every month, but you can also stop it if your financial situation changes.
Renovate the interior.
Simple things like fresh paint and new light fixtures can go a long way to improving the value of your home and your equity in it. You don’t have to make it look like an HGTV star lives there – simply having relatively modern fixtures and a home that looks clean and well cared for goes a long way.
If you do choose to do a more extensive update, kitchens and baths are where you’ll see the biggest return. This assumes that you choose a style that is not super trendy or likely to appeal to only a small subset of buyers. Keep things relatively classic and as high quality as you can afford.
Add curb appeal.
Many buyers make their decisions within seconds of seeing a house. You may not be a gardener, but taking care of the exterior of the home goes a long way. No chipped or faded paint. Flowers in pots or well maintained beds. Make your entryway look inviting by having a fresh paint job on the door & quality fixtures. Keep trees and bushes pruned back away from the house and the lawn well cared for and not overgrown. It’s weird that free or inexpensive things like trimming trees and planting flowers can have an impact, but value is also about perception. Square footage is one thing, but condition is another.
Any deferred maintenance on the exterior makes alarm bells ring loudly to buyers and appraisers.
Why does equity even matter?
Well, it doesn’t, unless it does to you. One reason it could matter is if you’ve purchased a home with less than 20% down and want to get out from under PMI. If you are able to increase the value of your home over time or with improvements, you can have the property reappraised and potentially get rid of PMI. If you had an FHA loan you would be required to refinance, but the same theory applies. And, hey! If you had an easy time making your mortgage while paying PMI, pretend you still have it and throw that $100/month at your mortgage principal instead.
Some people want to be debt free, and home mortgages are typically the largest debts we carry. Ridding yourself of a house payment as soon as possible as well as reducing interest payments is a good thing if this is your goal.
Or maybe you use your home as a form of savings account in addition to whatever else you’re doing and plan to sell it when you retire and use the proceeds to buy your beach bungalow or cabin. Or you have kids that will be going to college and you want to be able to use some of the equity in your home to pay for it.
Whatever your goals are, these are a few ways to help you get there.