Value of household real estate assets soars: net worth now averages $136,500 per capita

Since mid-2001, the value of household real estate assets has increased a stellar 27 per cent nationally, roughly double the 13 per cent rise in the value of household financial assets, according to the latest Real Estate Trends, released by Scotia Economics. 

Household net worth has soared 17 per cent, to an average of $136,500 per capita, over the same period.

“Rising homeownership rates, combined with appreciating home prices, have been the dominant driver of Canadian household wealth gains over the past three years,” said Adrienne Warren, the senior economist for Scotia Economics, a part of the Scotia Bank Group.

Home equity has traditionally been the single largest component of net wealth for most households, but its share of the average household investment portfolio steadily declined through the 1990s as stock market returns outpaced gains in real estate prices. 

“This trend has now reversed, with real estate assets becoming an increasingly important component of household net worth and non-registered savings,” added Warren.

According to the report, the rise in real estate wealth is an important factor driving consumer spending gains, especially on big-ticket durables.

Gains in real estate wealth typically have a more powerful impact on consumer spending than do equity gains, as they are perceived as more permanent, and real estate is more widely held.

“A similar picture of real estate-driven wealth gains can be seen in the United States,” said Warren. “Compared with their American counterparts, however, homeowner equity is much higher in Canada — and rising.”

Real estate equity (assets minus mortgages) represented 70 per cent of Canadian household real estate assets in mid-2004, versus only 55 per cent in the United States. This appears to reflect different approaches to balance sheet restructuring, as well as the deductibility of U.S. mortgage interest payments. 

U.S. households have focused more on paying down higher cost consumer debt in recent years, in part, through mortgage refinancing and home equity extraction.