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  • About 780,000 metro Denver area homeowners have $119.7 billion in equity they can tap at affordable rates for home improvement projects or to pay off high-interest debt
  • Home values in the metro Denver market are are up 87% since 2012, bringing average “tappable equity” per home to $154,000
  • Cashing out home equity without comparing actual mortgage interest rates could cost homeowners $18,000 or more in unnecessary interest charges

Rising home values mean more than 780,000 homeowners in and around Denver can tap the equity they’ve built in their homes to finance home improvement projects at affordable interest rates, or pay off high-interest debt like credit cards or student loans.

With home values up 87% from their 2011 bottom, these homeowners now have an average of $154,000 in “tappable equity.” That’s the amount of cash they can access while still retaining an ownership stake of at least 20% in their homes.

Although interest rates are once again on the rise, mortgage rates remain low by historical standards, and a growing number of homeowners are tapping their equity through cash-out mortgage refinancing.

But research by Freddie Mac shows most borrowers take out a mortgage without getting actual rates from multiple lenders, putting them at risk of paying lenders thousands in unnecessary interest charges.

Even a quarter point interest rate reduction on a typical $350,000 30-year mortgage refinance can save a Denver area homeowner more than $18,000 over the life of the loan.

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How Denver stacks up to other markets

Homeowners in the metro Denver area have a greater amount of total equity on tap than many other prominent markets west of the Mississippi, including Portland ($81.2 billion), Las Vegas ($38 billion), and Salt Lake City ($22.6 billion).

In the Northwest, Denver is outranked only by bigger (and pricier) markets like Seattle ($205.7 billion), San Jose ($338.5 billion) and the San Francisco Bay Area ($575.1 billion).

Looking at the top 50 U.S. markets for tappable equity, Denver ranks 12th in the nation, ahead of markets like Atlanta, Houston and Minneapolis (see story, “What Americans Should Know Before Cashing out $6 Trillion in Home Equity”).

Since hitting a low of $211,600 during the housing downturn, Zillow estimates the median home value in and around the metro Denver area has climbed by 87%, to $396,200. That’s an average gain of $184,600 per home, boosting tappable equity to $154,000, according to a separate analysis by mortgage data aggregator Black Knight.

The metro Denver area, which encompasses 8,346 square miles and includes cities like Aurora and Lakewood, is home to 2.89 million people. Although homes in some areas remain affordable, they’re hitting the stratosphere in Denver’s ritzier submarkets.

The 10 priciest housing markets in the metro Denver area

  1. Cherry Hills Village ($1,973,000 median home value)
  2. Columbine Valley ($975,900)
  3. Greenwood Village ($962,800)
  4. Genesee ($747,600)
  5. Franktown ($669,200)
  6. Todd Creek ($661,100)
  7. Lone Tree ($618,200)
  8. Larkspur ($616,000)
  9. Sedalia ($606,600)
  10. Evergreen ($586,900)

Estimated median home values as of Sept. 30, 2018. Source: Zillow Home Value Index.

When unemployment soared during the 2007-2009 recession, metro Denver home prices plateaued, rather than plummeted. After the jobless rate peaked at 8.9% at the end of 2010 and began to fall, home values began a steady upward climb.

Tapping equity responsibly

It’s important to note that falling unemployment and rising home prices doesn’t mean homeowners don’t have to worry about ups and downs in the economy. Pulling too much cash out of a home can put homeowners at greater risk of foreclosure in a downturn.

But homeowners who keep at least a 20% stake in their homes when refinancing have enough of an “equity cushion” that lenders typically won’t require them to obtain private mortgage insurance.

Undertaken responsibly, a cash-out refinancing can provide homeowners with an affordable source of funding for home improvement projects or other big-ticket expenses like college or unexpected medical bills. Many homeowners are also tapping equity in their home to get rid of high-interest credit card or student loan debt.

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Last year, U.S. homeowners accessed $92.1 billion in home equity through cash-out mortgage refinancing ($69.7 billion) or refinancing to pay down a second mortgage or home equity line of credit ($22.4 billion). That’s more than double the $42.5 billion in equity tapped through 2012 mortgage refinancings.

How to compare mortgage rates

For homeowners who are thinking about cashing out some of their equity by refinancing, it pays to compare mortgage rates.

Until recently, it’s been quite a chore to do that online. Today, there are three main avenues for exploring mortgage rates online:

  • Single-lender websites
  • Traditional rate comparison sites
  • Modern mortgage marketplace

Some single-lender websites that facilitate “quickie mortgages” have reduced the hassle of applying for a loan. But they don’t provide information on rates available from other lenders, and may even discourage consumers from shopping for a mortgage.

The main goal of many traditional rate comparison sites is to convert consumers into “leads” and sell them to lenders. Since the rates they generate are often based on self-reported credit scores and little or no underwriting is performed, they can be misleading.

Credible.com is a modern mortgage marketplace that’s integrated with credit bureaus and lenders, so consumers can request actual rates from top mortgage lenders. Using Credible, consumers can:

  • Compare actual rates in 3 minutes (not ranges or estimates)
  • Shop and close “on platform,” like booking an airline ticket or buying essentials on Amazon
  • Save time and avoid frustration with streamlined, digital origination process
  • Consult with Credible’s licensed loan officers if needed

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While strong home equity growth presents an opportunity for many homeowners to meet financial goals like paying down costlier debt or improving their homes, they should make sure they’re not overpaying when they refinance their mortgages.