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How we got here

During the Great Recession, housing prices dropped 33% across the country. But the historically low interest rates that followed made for a pretty good buying opportunity.

In the decade that preceded the pandemic, the value of owner-occupied housing climbed back up. In nearly 100 metros, home values rose more than $8 trillion, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors.

But it was the ultra-low interest rates during the pandemic years that encouraged a boom in buying, causing house prices to spike to historic levels in many areas — and pushing homeownership out of sight for many.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the cost of owning a home has hit new heights. According to a December housing report from Zillow, the monthly mortgage payment on a typical home has more than doubled since 2019, going from $897 to $1,809.

That makes it doubly hard to actually get your footing on the property ladder, if you aren’t already. But it also means that people who owned before pandemic demand sent prices soaring have the advantage of a lower mortgage payment and, very likely, a lower locked-in interest rate.

They’re paying that much less every month for housing than the person who bought during the pandemic, or since interest rates began rising in mid-2022.

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The wealth disparity is growing

Which means the net worth of homeowners is rising a lot faster than it is for non-homeowners.

That being said, there was already a significant gap. The median household net worth of homeowners was about 40 times higher than that of renters before the pandemic, according to a survey released by the Federal Reserve in 2020.

The data shows that American homeowners, pre-pandemic, had a median net worth of $255,000, while renters had a net worth of just $6,300.

Now, there’s likely a much greater difference thanks in part to home equity and rental prices.

Nearly half of American homeowners were considered “equity rich” by mid-2022, according to ATTOM’s U.S. Home Equity and Underwater report.

It’s the highest percentage ever seen, said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of market intelligence at ATTOM, which collects housing data from markets across the country. To be equity rich means that the loan on your house is half, or less than half, of the estimated market value of your house.

But it’s concentrated in certain areas

But not every corner of the country has been equally impacted. Eight of the top 10 equity-rich states are in the West, while 12 of the 15 states with the lowest percentages of equity-rich homes were in the Midwest and South.

At the same time, rental prices have sky-rocketed in major metros.

The average rent for a one-bedroom in New York City, according to online apartment search engine Zumper, is nearly $4,000. That’s a year-over-year jump of 20%. In San Francisco, the average one-bedroom is $3,000 — 10% higher than last year.

If you’re paying rent in a major city, it’s going to be hard to save for a down payment, putting homeownership that much further down the line.

It stands to reason that those who have homes, and who bought them at the right time, will continue to see their net worth increase. While people who haven’t bought will continue to fall behind — especially if they live in an expensive city.

More: Is now a good time to buy a house?

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About the Author

Lauren Bird

Lauren Bird

Staff Reporter

Lauren Bird was a former reporter for Moneywise.com. Before writing about personal finance Lauren reported and produced for CBC and BBC Radio. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic.

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