Smart Ways to Build Equity in Your New Home

Now that you’ve invested in a home, how do you increase its value?

That’s called “building equity.” Equity is the market value of your home or property, minus your outstanding mortgage debt. So, for example, if you can sell your home for $450,000 and you still owe $100,000, you have $350,000 in equity. Building equity is one the biggest financial benefits of ownership.

If you live in a market where home values are rising, yours may float up with the rising tide and your equity will increase without doing a thing.

Or you can work on growing your home’s value by decreasing the amount you owe and/or increasing the value of your property. Here are some ways to do both.

Mortgage payments

Part of every mortgage payment goes towards paying off your loan’s principal and interest, with most of the payment going to interest in the loan’s early years. You can use Zillow’s amortization calculator to estimate how much money will be paid over the life of your loan for principal and interest. If you pay down the principal faster, your equity should increase faster. This can be done a few different ways.

Paying more: If you have a 30-year mortgage, adding more to your payment either monthly or when you have extra cash can help you gain equity. If you pay more, make sure your lender applies it to your principal. This is a great way to use your tax refund, a bonus from work or an inheritance.

Paying faster: You could divide your monthly mortgage payment into two bi-weekly payments, for a total of 26. So instead of 12 payments a year, you make the equivalent of 13, paying down your mortgage faster and gaining more equity. But make sure to check with your lender first to make sure they accept bi-weekly payments. And make sure all the extra money goes immediately to the principal instead of waiting for the second half-payment. Reputable lenders will not charge a fee for bi-weekly payments.

Refinancing: If you have a 30-year mortgage, you might want to consider refinancing to a 15-year loan, which has a lower rate. Most consider this worthwhile only if you can drop your interest rate by at least 1.5%. Factor in any closing costs before making this move. Also make sure your mortgage doesn’t have a penalty for pre-payment. It’s not common, but it’s better to check.

Before you decide on any of these options, consider if it’s really the best use of your money. If you’re not maxed out on employer-matched saving accounts, perhaps you should be putting extra money into your 401(k) rather than paying off a low-interest mortgage. It’s smart to talk with a financial advisor to determine the best investment strategy for you.

Also make sure you have an emergency fund, typically 6 months of savings in case you fall ill or lose a job.

Renovate wisely

Making smart improvements and adding the right amenities to your home can also increase its market value, which means more equity for you.

How do you know which projects will bring the best return on your investment? Even though you’ve just moved into your new place, there are home improvements buyers typically love: bathrooms, attics, entrances, kitchen updates, garage doors and siding. Popular features can vary by area and home type, so consider what’s in demand in your market.

Also, be mindful of your market as you’re thinking about how much to invest in improving your home. The realities of a buyers or sellers market will have an impact on how much return you’ll get when you sell.

You can find more inspiration, ideas and guidance in Zillow Porchlight home improvement articles.

For new homeowners, Zillow’s design and home improvement videos show you how to tackle your first project.


This Advisor Has 6 Pieces of Financial Advice For Women

Molly Ward is a Texas mother, wife and certified financial planner. With nearly three decades of financial planning experience, she focuses her practice on helping women achieve financial independence and live up to their financial potential.

An advisor with Equitable Advisors in Houston, Texas, Ward’s been helping her clients navigate their way through the COVID-19 crisis. She’s got some solid advice for how to lower your financial stress level.

Here are six questions that we’ve gotten from women who read The Penny Hoarder — and Molly Ward’s answers.

1. How Can I Prepare for Life’s Difficulties?

Q: Life has its inevitable derailments and obstacles: We take care of our aging parents; we have health concerns; deaths in the family; experience disabilities and often, women live longer than men. How can we prepare, financially?

A: “I have seen so many brilliant businesswomen and hardworking moms unnecessarily suffer when they experience life’s inevitable difficult seasons,” Ward says. “If a woman is proactive and thoughtfully and thoroughly prepared, she can change the course of her life and her family’s.”

Ward notes that women typically take more time out of careers to take care of loved ones — kids, husbands, aging parents. Also, women tend to live longer than men. Due to longevity and fewer earning years, a woman must:

  • Save more.
  • Acquire insurance on herself and possibly her spouse, and perhaps long-term care insurance on her parents.

Here at The Penny Hoarder, we recommend a life insurance company called Bestow. You could leave your family up to $1 million, and we hear people are paying as little as $16 a month for insurance policies. (But every year you wait, this gets more expensive.)

It takes just minutes to get a free quote and see how much life insurance you can leave your loved ones.

2. How Do I Invest?

Q: My husband recently passed away, and he took care of all the investing. What do I do? 

A: “Start with a realization that investing comes after planning,” Ward says. “Investing without a plan is like driving on a trip without a map.”

She recommends talking to a financial planner. When it comes to investing, Ward stresses long-term planning and logic versus focusing on the hot stock of the day or the political climate. Those will pass.

If you’re new to investing, you can start small. Investing doesn’t require you throwing thousands of dollars at full shares of stocks. In fact, you can get started with as little as $1.*

The Penny Hoarder likes Stash, because it lets you choose from hundreds of stocks and funds to build your own investment portfolio. But it makes it simple by breaking them down into categories based on your personal goals. Want to invest conservatively right now? Totally get it! Want to dip in with moderate or aggressive risk? Do what’s best for you.

If you sign up now (it takes two minutes), Stash will give you $5 after you add $5 to your investment account. Subscription plans start at $1 a month.**

3. Why Do I Feel Out of Control?

Q: Why do I feel out of control with my money? 

A: “Taking control of your finances should be a priority,” Ward says. “You wouldn’t knowingly leave your child’s college decision, or even your next summer vacation to chance. So why would you leave your financial future up in the air?

“Managing your own personal finances and investments requires a completely different emotional muscle, one that is often paralyzed by any number of experiences that can cause you to make easily avoidable mistakes — including the biggest mistake: Doing nothing at all.”

To assess your finances, Ward recommends making a list of all your assets and investments, along with any recurring payments or debts.

Take it from The Penny Hoarder: Credit card debt is the worst! Your credit card company is just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. Take control with a website called AmOne, which will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.99% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online.

4. How Else Can I Take Control?

Q: What else can I do to take control of my finances? 

A: “Goal-setting may sound trite, but it’s an excellent starting point toward gaining control of your finances and your future,” Ward says. “Discussing and stating your short- or long-term plans for your life help you understand what financial goals you should set.”

“Financial assessment, goal setting and budgeting should become something you do out of habit — like brushing your teeth, giving your dog his flea medicine, scrolling through Instagram. Making these steps part of your monthly routine will bring a sense of control and order to your life.”

Here at The Penny Hoarder, we recommend taking control of your credit score. It’s important because the higher your score, the better deal you’ll get on a mortgage, a car loan, a credit card, or even a deposit on a car rental or an apartment.

Try using a free website called Credit Sesame. Within two minutes, you’ll get access to your credit score, any debt-carrying accounts and a handful of personalized tips to improve your score. You’ll even be able to spot any errors holding you back (one in five reports have one).

5. How Should I Leave an Inheritance?

Q: I’m going to be leaving an inheritance to my children. How do I make sure there is peace amongst them after I die?

A: “When it comes to passing down wealth and last wishes, I’ve witnessed success and sadly, on the other hand, I’ve seen feuds and litigation,” Ward says. “The negative outcomes tend to happen when there is either too much complication or at the other extreme, complete lack of planning. An internet legal document is not sufficient!

“Sometimes there is a ‘problem asset’ — for example, a piece of property that has emotional attachment. Along with poor planning, such as an unclear title or problems with a deed, emotions are high following the death of the guiding force of a parent. Feelings can get hurt, which can create a hotbed of controversy and fighting among the children.

“Thoughtful communication, in which the parent’s important values are discussed is key. Estate planning should be completed and regularly reviewed. Sometimes, hiring a trust company to be named executor or trustee of the estate can help keep the peace. When given to a family member, the executor or trustee role can often be a thankless job that comes with liability and creates unnecessary turmoil in the family.”

6. Why Do My Spouse and I Disagree About Money?

Q: My spouse and I disagree about money. Why? 

A: “It might have something to do with your embedded money scripts,” Ward says. “Your money memories — those embedded in you by parents and or grandparents — highly influence your financial success or struggles.”

“In fact, many experts believe our habits and views surrounding money were formed as children watching our parents and other adults with it. After you learn what yours are, have a peaceful discussion with him/her about money scripts to see where each other are coming from.”

“Also, planning when you are in love and things are going well is a great time to talk about your incomes, assets and debts. Truthful conversations about money at the beginning will serve you well later!”

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. 




How to Pay Off Student Loans

Reader Interactions

full disclaimer and complete list of partners.