Negative equity continued to fall in the fourth quarter of 2012, dropping to 27.5 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage, compared with 31.1 percent one year ago, according to the fourth quarter Zillow Negative Equity Report. Almost two million American homeowners were freed from negative equity over the course of the year. Approximately 13.8 million homeowners with a mortgage were in negative equity, or "underwater," at the end of the fourth quarter, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That was down from 15.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. American homeowners with a mortgage were collectively underwater by more than $1 trillion at the end of 2012.
In 2012, national home values rose 5.9 percent year-over-year, according to the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI), to a median value of $157,400. This jump in home values, coupled with sustained high foreclosure rates, were the main drivers for receding negative equity. Among the nation's 30 largest metro areas, those with the highest number of homeowners freed from negative equity last year were Phoenix (135,099 homeowners freed in 2012); Los Angeles (72,936 homeowners freed in 2012); Miami-Fort Lauderdale (70,484 homeowners freed in 2012); Dallas-Fort Worth (59,461 homeowners freed in 2012); and Riverside, Calif. (58,417 homeowners freed in 2012).
New this quarter, the Zillow Negative Equity Forecast predicts the negative equity rate among all homeowners with a mortgage will fall to at least 25.5 percent by the fourth quarter of 2013, freeing more than 999,000 additional homeowners nationwide. Of the 30 largest metro areas, the majority of these newly freed homeowners are anticipated to come from: Los Angeles (72,696 homeowners freed in 2013); Riverside (62,407 homeowners freed in 2013); Phoenix (43,044 homeowners freed in 2013); Sacramento (33,356 homeowners freed in 2013); and Dallas-Fort Worth (31,434 homeowners freed in 2013).
Zillow forecasts negative equity by applying anticipated appreciation or depreciation rates to a home, according to the most current metro and national Zillow Home Value Forecasts, and by assuming all other factors remain constant.
"As home values continue to rise and more homeowners are pulled out of negative equity in 2013, the positive effects on the housing market will be numerous. Freed from negative equity, homeowners will have more flexibility, and some will likely choose to list their home for sale, helping to ease inventory constraints and moderating sometimes dramatic, demand-driven price increases in some markets," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. "But negative equity is still very high, and millions of homeowners have a very long way to go to get back above water, even with current robust levels of home value appreciation in most areas. As a result, negative equity will remain a major factor in the market for the foreseeable future."
These results are from the fourth quarter edition of the Zillow Negative Equity Report, which looks at current outstanding loan amounts for individual owner-occupied homes and compares them to those homes' current estimated values. Loan data is provided by TransUnion, a global leader in credit and information management. This is the only report that uses current outstanding loan balances on all mortgages when calculating negative equity. Other reports estimate current outstanding loan balance based on the most recent loan on a property (i.e., the original loan amount at time of purchase or refinance).