Home equity lending made solid strides in the last year but still has a lot of ground to cover to return to pre-crisis levels, housing data firm RealtyTrac  said in a new report Thursday.
In its first-ever U.S. Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) Trends Report , the company revealed that lenders originated an estimated 797,865 HELOCs in the 12 months ending in June, up 20.6 percent from the prior period and the highest level since the year ending June 2009.
For the first eight months of 2014, RealtyTrac reported HELOCs made up 15.4 percent of all loan originations nationwide, a post-crisis high.
"The recent rise in HELOC originations indicates that an increasing number of homeowners are gaining confidence in the strength of the housing recovery and, more importantly, have regained much of their home equity lost during the housing crisis," said RealtyTrac VP Daren Blomquist.
According to the company's data, nearly 10 million homeowners nationwide have at least 50 percent equity in their homes, representing about 19 percent of all mortgaged homeowners.
Blomquist said the rebound in HELOCs also reflects a shift in focus among lenders away from home purchase and refinance offerings and toward a product borrowers might be more interested in taking advantage of.
Despite the build-up in HELOC volumes over the last two years, originations remain 76 percent below their peak in 2005–2006, when HELOCs accounted for nearly a quarter of lending activity.
Among the country's 50 largest metros with HELOC data available, 49 posted annual increases in loan volume for the year ending in June, led by Riverside-San Bernardino (87.7 percent), Las Vegas (85.1 percent), Cincinnati (81 percent), Sacramento (65.1 percent), and Phoenix (60.1 percent).
Compared to 2006, however, HELOCs were down in 49 markets, including several of the metros posting the highest gains in the last year. In Riverside-San Bernardino, for example, HELOC originations in 2014 were down 93 percent from their pre-crash peak, while originations in Las Vegas were down 92.9.