Housing is hot again, but lately it’s been overshadowed by flashier bubbles in government debt, tech stocks and possibly cryptocurrencies.
Still, the warning signs are spreading. Today’s Wall Street Journal, for instance, reports that homeowners are back to using their houses as ATMs:
Nearly half of borrowers who refinanced their homes in the first quarter chose the cash-out option, according to data released this week by Freddie Mac. That is the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2008.
The cash-out level is still well below the almost 90% peak hit in the run-up to the housing meltdown. But it is up sharply from the post-crisis nadir of 12% in the second quarter of 2012.
In a cash-out refi, a borrower refinances an existing mortgage with a new one, typically at a lower borrowing cost, that has a higher principal balance than the existing one. This allows the homeowner to pay off the old mortgage and still have cash left over for other uses.
The growing popularity of cash-out refis has helped buoy refinance activity. After booming for several years, demand for refinance mortgages had begun to slow as the Federal Reserve began increasing short-term interest rates and longer-term bond yields moved higher.