Black Knight: $1.2 Trillion In Cash-Out Refis In 2021 As Homeowners Tap $275 Billion In Equity

The Data & Analytics division of Black Knight, Inc. (NYSE:BKI) released its latest Mortgage Monitor Report, based upon the company’s mortgage, real estate and public records datasets. This month’s report looks into 2021’s record-breaking $4.4 trillion in mortgage originations and the distinct shift to an equity-driven refinance market. According to Black Knight Data & Analytics President Ben Graboske, though American homeowners are tapping their homes’ equity via cash-out refinances at the highest level since 2005, they are doing so judiciously, at roughly half the rate seen back then.

“Entering 2021, consensus opinion was that originations would likely come in 20-25% lower than 2020’s record-breaking levels,” said Graboske. “Our own forecast suggested a slighter decline, on the order of -7%. In the end, total originations came in at $4.4 trillion, actually outpacing the prior record. At $1.7 trillion for the year, purchase lending also hit the highest point ever recorded, while the $2.7 trillion in refinance lending was a bit below 2020 levels. What stands out is the 20% growth in cash-outs over 2021, which accounted for $1.2 trillion in originations last year and $275 billion in equity withdrawn. In Q4 alone, homeowners tapped $80 billion – the most in 15 years – while marking the fifth consecutive quarter of more than 1 million borrowers pulling cash out. And yet, despite that sizable withdrawal, surging home values meant overall tappable equity still grew by nearly $450 billion in the quarter.

“Likewise, rising home values are resulting in much lower post-cash-out LTVs than we’ve seen in recent years – and more than 10 points lower than during the previous peak – while high average credit scores are also helping to lower the overall risk profile of these loans. We’ve been discussing this shift to an equity-centric market for some time, and our Optimal Blue rate lock data showed that cash-out activity continued to increase in January of this year as well. Now for the bad news: retention of cash-out refinance borrowers has been notoriously difficult. Even in a quarter that saw overall retention rates hit an eight-year high, cash-out retention was still 8 percentage points lower than for rate/term refis. Servicers continue to struggle with this segment, despite strong improvement.”

Drilling in deeper to the latest retention data, the report finds that borrowers who changed lenders received interest rates just 5 basis points lower, on average, than those who were retained by their current lender/servicer – the smallest delta in 2.5 years. This suggests pricing – while certainly important – is not the only factor necessary to retain a current customer, particularly if they are looking to take equity out of their home. Lenders and servicers that create a positive customer experience see greater loyalty and retention.  Indeed, servicers using Black Knight’s cloud-native Servicing Digital customer engagement platform saw nearly 20% better retention for loans that were on the platform as compared to those that were not.

Retention metrics also highlight the need for data-driven marketing strategies and portfolio analysis, especially with rate/term refinance incentive cut by 65% year-to-date and lenders competing for a shrinking pool of high-quality candidates. In a market dominated by equity-centric lending, it becomes paramount for lenders/servicers to be able to accurately identify borrowers who meet certain defined criteria and are most likely to tap into the record levels of equity, and then create targeted marketing campaigns personalized for those specific borrowers.