Homeownership is big in American cultural ideology as well as on American asset sheets. Thus, when housing values drop, the wealth of Americans drops:
The Federal Reserve said the median net worth of families plunged by 39 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That puts Americans roughly on par with where they were in 1992…
But it was the implosion of the housing market that inflicted much of the pain. The median value of Americans’ stake in their homes fell by 42 percent between 2007 and 2010, to $55,000, according to the Fed.
The poorest families suffered the biggest loss of wealth from the drop in real estate prices. But middle-class Americans rely on housing for a larger part of their net worth. For some, it accounts for just more than half of their assets. That means every step downward is felt more acutely.
Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of research at the Pew Hispanic Center, calls this phenomenon the “reverse wealth effect.” As consumers watched the value of their homes rise during the boom, they felt more confident spending money, even if they did not actually cash in on the gains. Now, the moribund housing market has made many Americans wary of spending, even if their losses are just on paper.
Some other tidbits regarding housing and wealth from the Federal Reserve report:
-“The decline in median net worth was especially large for families in groups where housing was a larger share of assets, such as families headed by someone 35 to 44 years old (median net worth fell 54.4 percent) and families in the West region (median net worth fell 55.3 percent).” (p.2)
-“Housing was of greater importance than financial assets for the wealth position of most families. The national purchase-only LoanPerformance Home Price Index produced by First American CoreLogic fell 22.4 percent between September 2007 and September 2010, by which point house prices were fully 27.5 percent below the peak achieved in April 2006. The decline in house prices was most rapid in the states where the boom had been greatest. For example, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida saw declines of 40 to 50 percent, while Iowa saw a decline of only about 1 percent. Homeownership rates fell over the period, in part because some families found it impossible to continue to afford their homes. By 2010, the homeownership rate was back down to a level last seen in the 2001 SCF, although that was still higher than in any previous SCF since at least 1989.” (p.4)
-“As might be expected from the previous discussion on the role of the decline in housing values in explaining median and mean wealth losses across various demographic groups, there are large differences in net worth changes by housing status. Median net worth for homeowners fell 29.1 percent between 2007 and 2010, while the mean fell 12.7 percent. The decline in median net worth for non-homeowners (hereafter, renters) was only 5.6 percent, though the decline in the mean was much larger at 23.4 percent. Renters have much lower median and mean net worth than homeowners in any survey year, so the dollar value of wealth losses for the renter group tended to be much smaller; for example, the median net worth of renters fell $300 over the three-year period, in contrast with $71,500 for
-“Housing wealth represents a large component of total family wealth; in 2010, primary residences accounted for 29.5 percent of total family assets. Over the 2007–10 period, this percentage declined 2.2 percentage points overall. The relative importance of housing in the total asset portfolio varies substantially over the income distribution, with housing generally constituting a progressively smaller share of assets with increasing levels of income, as shown in the following table…Homeowners in virtually all demographic groups saw losses in the median, and most of those losses were substantial; the one exception was the lowest quartile of the net worth distribution, where homeownership
jumped 8.1 percentage points and the median home value increased 31.2 percent, most likely reflecting a compositional shift within that lowest wealth group. Otherwise, substantial decreases in median housing values were widespread.” (p.47-49)
It sounds like the West (compared to other regions) and homeowners (compared to renters) were hit hard by a drop in housing values.