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Wild solution to home equity has fintech VC firms talking, could change real estate in a big way

(HOMEOWNERSHIP NEWS) If things continue the way they’re going, at some point most Americans will expect to rent for the rest of their lives. That’s a problem. But there is a solution being propose that has the financial tech world excited. And it’s big.

affordability homes new home sales pending

A big number

18 trillion dollars. Look at that number. Seems almost silly, doesn’t it? Something a kid might make up if you asked her for the biggest number there could ever be.

What if, instead, it’s the single most important number in practical economics? What if, sitting in this country, there’s 18 trillion dollars that isn’t being used? 18 trillion dollars by itself looks silly, like I’m talking about building a spaceship. But at least spaceships are real things. 18 trillion unleveraged dollars in the country sounds like I think I found a spaceship in my basement. Strains credibility somewhat.

Where the problem lies

I didn’t find a spaceship in my basement. Alas, I’m not quite that smart. But some other people may have.

18 trillion dollars is the estimated value of owner-occupied real estate in this country and, they say, a whole lot of it isn’t being used.

That’s the argument of a growing field of real estate investment: light-equity lending. It’s one response to the unpleasant reality that despite recent rises, experts predict an overall downward trend in homeownership in coming years. That could only grow worse, perhaps unsustainably so, as the retired population grows and their place in the workforce is taken by millennials living with the low-equity realities of the service economy.

[clickToTweet tweet=”If things continue the way they’re going, some Americans might rent for the rest of their lives.” quote=”The simple fact is that if things continue the way they’re going, at some point most Americans will expect to rent for the rest of their lives. That’s a problem.”]


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There may be a solution.

A question posed

In their a16z podcast below, Andreesen Horowitz (one of the most relevant venture capital firms on the planet) put forth a question so simple it almost seems absurd, a little like 18 trillion dollars: why is home ownership a 0 or 100 proposition? Nothing else is.

Every other form of public and private investment is protected by distributed risk. Why are borrowers and lenders locked in a terminally 20th century position of owner and owned, with all the equity on one side and all the risk on the other?

Better question: why did our real estate market implode ten years ago, and what’s being done to stop it happening again?

Home equity for all

Andreesen Horowitz is advancing some examples, in the form of Eddie Lim and Alex Rampell, partners in Point, where homeowners can sell and investors can purchase shares of home equity, the owners receiving cash they can spend or reinvest, while the lenders buy a portion of the value of their home.

In the light-equity model, an investor in possession of 10 or 20 percent of a piece of real estate gains the opportunity to profit as home value rises, and the only thing they lose is the driving force behind the 2007-2009 recession we’re still paying off: the chance to benefit from failure.

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This model, Lim and Rampell argue, puts lenders and homeowners back on the same side of the ball where they belong.

It’s not a silver bullet, but it is a new idea, and while new ideas tend to turn out more Edsels and Segways than spaceships, this one has economists from Princeton and the University of Chicago, not to mention one of the best fintech VC firms in the business, willing to argue the latter. That’s not nothing. Every once in a while, a smart person really does build a spaceship.


Written By

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.


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