The economy just handed boomers another win—the U.S. housing market nearly doubled in a decade to a record $23 trillion

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The ballooning value of property in America is exacerbating the gap between the haves and have-nots. As Fannie Mae CEO Priscilla Almodovar said late last year, U.S. housing is facing a major dichotomy. 

“It’s a tale of two markets,” she told MarketWatch in an interview at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual conference. “Homeowners are in good shape because they probably have a lot of equity in their homes.” Meanwhile, those who aren’t yet owners are clamoring to break into an exceedingly expensive housing market with mortgage rates not seen in decades and home prices on the rise. 

Indeed, the staggering appreciation of U.S. home values has highlighted the chasm between homeowners and renters. In the decade since 2012, the total value of owner-occupied mortgaged homes in the U.S. housing has nearly doubled, from $13 trillion to $24 trillion last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Most of that appreciation came in the past few years. (U.S. Census data for this series only goes back as far as 2010, and the most updated data is from 2022.)

Online lending marketplace LendingTree released a report this week illustrating how much home values have grown, focusing on the year leading up to the pandemic through 2022. Understanding current total home values and appreciation over time may not be the first thing that new buyers think of, Jacob Channel, LendingTree economist and author of the report, tells Fortune. But the insight into how much value is held in real estate and how much it can change over time can still be helpful for consumers. Plus, with mortgage rates and home prices as high as they are, it can be challenging for new buyers to decide whether it’s even worth it to buy a home, he says.

“The more someone knows about the overall state of their area’s housing market, the more informed their choices related to real estate are likely to be,” Channel says. “Moreover, being able to see just how much home values tend to rise over time can give people more insight into whether or not the value of their property is likely to grow.”

The baby boomer market

The rise of the property market shows that in this area—as in so much of the economy—the baby boomers have come out on top. Even though millennials “make up the biggest piece of the homebuying pie” having purchased about 60% of homes bought with mortgages during the past several years, baby boomers’ total housing equity is still triple that of millennials, according to Redfin. 

Redfin, which has different methods of measuring and reporting home values than the U.S. Census, found that baby boomers held $18 trillion in home value as of June 2023, the month in which the total worth of U.S. homes hit a record $46.8 trillion.

Either way, it’s evident that baby boomers continue to dominate the housing market by holding on to appreciating properties they bought pre-pandemic or by simply elbowing out millennials and Gen Zers in the sales market with their superior financial resources. More older people holding on to their homes has meant lower inventory for younger generations vying for a starter home.

“This massive shortfall is especially severe in the critical entry-level price range, keeping large swaths of people from entering the market entirely,” Julia Wasserman, chief operations officer of equity investment platform Home Construction Collective, previously told Fortune.

What do high values mean? 

At face value, it’s difficult to understand what it means to live in an area with a high total home value. New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco top the charts of cities where the total value of owner-occupied homes is highest, according to LendingTree’s analysis. But what does that mean for consumers?

Odds are, if you live in one of those three cities, you’re “going to have to contend with high individual home prices,” Channel says. New York City’s total value of all owner-occupied housing units was $2.75 trillion as of 2022, according to LendingTree’s analysis. 

“This can be tricky, especially if you don’t earn a particularly large income or have things like a strong credit score and cash for a substantial down payment,” Channel says. 

Areas with high aggregate real estate values also tend to have lower inventory levels, he adds, which can make buying a home even more difficult in these cities. “After all, the less housing an area has, the fewer options buyers have to choose from and the more competitive the housing market is likely to be,” he says.

But there are still upsides to living in higher-valued metro areas, Channel says. Expensive and dense cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco also tend to have higher-paying jobs and more retail and entertainment options—all amenities that could be more challenging to find in suburban areas. Either way, total home value is only one part of the housing puzzle.

“Consumers should recognize that while their individual outcomes may vary, looking at the big picture can still provide a lot of really useful insight into how a housing market functions and whether or not buying there might be a good idea,” Channel says.

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