The Hidden “Wealth Effect”

Economists have long recognized a phenomenon known as the “wealth effect”. As asset values, such as stocks and home prices rise, so does consumer confidence prompting increased spending which stimulates economic growth. Such was the case for most Americans of all income levels in the two years following the pandemic. However, by 2023 the wealth effect disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, thanks to inflation and ever-increasing federal spending.

Most Americans, including retirees, are more willing to increase discretionary spending when they feel wealthier- whether or not they actually have more cash. However, with stimulus savings nearly exhausted and inflation putting pressure on personal budgets consumers are becoming increasingly cautious. But what about older homeowners with significant housing wealth?

For many older homeowners, their property represents not just a place of comfort and nostalgia, but also a hidden treasure trove of wealth. This wealth is often locked away in the form of home equity, which can be a powerful financial tool when utilized strategically. In this article, we will explore the concept of the hidden wealth effect and how older homeowners can leverage their home equity to secure their financial future.

The Hidden Wealth Effect

The hidden wealth effect refers to the potential increase in spending and financial security that comes from realizing the value and tapping into one’s assets, in this case, home equity. For older homeowners, this effect can be particularly pronounced, offering a unique opportunity to enhance their quality of life, fund retirement, or leave a legacy for their loved ones.

Ways to Unlock the Hidden Wealth Effect

  1. Reverse Mortgages: This financial product allows homeowners aged 62 or older to borrow against the equity in their homes. The loan is typically repaid when the homeowner moves out of the house or passes away. Reverse mortgages can provide a steady stream of cash flow, offering financial stability during retirement.
  2. Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): A HELOC is a revolving line of credit that uses the home as collateral. This provides flexibility for homeowners to borrow against their equity when needed. It can be used for various purposes, such as home renovations, medical expenses, or debt consolidation. Borrowers should proceed with caution, however, as a HELOC’s credit line can be frozen should home values fall or market conditions sour.
  3. Downsizing: Selling the current property and purchasing a smaller, more affordable one can release a substantial amount of home equity. This freed-up capital can be reinvested, used to finance retirement, or simply enjoyed for improved quality of life.
  4. Renting a Portion of the Property: For homeowners with extra space, renting out a portion of the property (like a basement or an extra room) can generate rental income, effectively monetizing a part of the home’s value.
  5. Home Equity Loans: Unlike a HELOC, a home equity loan provides a lump sum of money upfront. This can be one option for financing large expenses, such as medical bills, home renovations, or debt consolidation.
  6. Estate Planning: Planning ahead can ensure that the accumulated home equity is transferred efficiently to heirs or beneficiaries. Proper legal and financial advice can help navigate the complexities of estate planning.

Benefits of Leveraging Home Equity

  1. Financial Security: Accessing home equity provides a safety net, especially during retirement or in the face of unexpected expenses.
  2. Increased cashflow: Unlike HELOC or home equity loans a reverse mortgage significantly increases a homeowner’s cashflow either by retiring the required monthly mortgage payments or by tapping into a line of credit or creating a monthly tenure payment.
  3. Improved Quality of Life: Whether through home renovations, travel, or other experiences, using home equity can enhance the homeowner’s overall well-being.
  4. Legacy Planning: Passing on assets to loved ones becomes more manageable with a strategic approach to home equity.


The hidden wealth effect is a powerful concept that can significantly impact the financial well-being of older homeowners. The challenge for reverse mortgage originators is to communicate with a homeowner who may feel poor- or cash-poor- when they may have hundreds of thousands of dollars of hidden wealth locked in the bricks and mortar of their home.

Seeking professional advice from financial advisors, estate planners, and real estate experts is crucial to ensure that these strategies are implemented effectively. In doing so, older homeowners may possibly unlock the full potential of their property, securing a comfortable and prosperous future.

by Shannon Hicks October 10, 2023