RealtyTrac has released its U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report for the first quarter of 2014, which shows that 9.1 million U.S. residential properties were seriously underwater — where the combined loan amount secured by the property is at least 25 percent higher than the property’s estimated market value—representing 17 percent of all properties with a mortgage in the first quarter.
The first quarter negative equity numbers were down to the lowest level since RealtyTrac began reporting negative equity in the first quarter of 2012. In the fourth quarter of 2013, 9.3 million residential properties representing 19 percent of all properties with a mortgage were seriously underwater, and in the first quarter of 2013 10.9 million residential properties representing 26 percent of all properties with a mortgage were seriously underwater. The recent peak in negative equity was the second quarter of 2012, when 12.8 million U.S. residential properties representing 29 percent of all properties with a mortgage were seriously underwater.
The universe of equity-rich properties — those with at least 50 percent equity — grew to 9.9 million representing 19 percent of all properties with a mortgage in the first quarter, up from 9.1 million representing 18 percent of all properties with a mortgage in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Another 8.5 million properties were on the verge of resurfacing in the first quarter, with between 10 percent negative equity and 10 percent positive equity. This segment represented 16 percent of all properties with a mortgage in the first quarter. That was compared to 8.3 million properties representing 17 percent of all properties with a mortgage in the fourth quarter of 2013.
Fewer distressed properties had negative equity in the first quarter, with 45 percent of all properties in the foreclosure process seriously underwater — down from 48 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 and down from 58 percent in the first quarter of 2013. Conversely, the share of foreclosures with positive equity increased to 35 percent in the first quarter, up from 31 percent in the fourth quarter and up from 24 percent in the third quarter of 2013.
“U.S. homeowners are continuing to recover equity lost during the Great Recession, but the pace of that recovering equity slowed in the first quarter, corresponding to slowing home price appreciation,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “Slower price appreciation means the nine million homeowners seriously underwater could still have a long road back to positive equity.
“The relatively high percentage of foreclosures with equity is surprising to many because it would seem homeowners with equity could easily avoid foreclosure by leveraging that equity by refinancing or with an equity sale of the home,” Blomquist noted. “But many distressed homeowners with equity may not realize they have equity and in some cases have vacated the property already, assuming that foreclosure is inevitable.”
“Underwater properties have become an insignificant part of the housing market in Orange County,” said Chris Pollinger, senior vice president of sales at First Team Real Estate, covering the Southern California market. “Out of the nearly 40,000 properties we currently have listed only about 3,000 of those are distressed or short sale properties, proving that the continual rise in home prices is relieving the housing market of underwater homeowners.”
States with the highest percentage of residential properties seriously underwater in the first quarter were Nevada (34 percent), Florida (31 percent), Illinois (30 percent), Michigan (29 percent), and Ohio (27 percent).
Major metropolitan statistical areas (population 500,000 or more) with the highest percentage of residential properties seriously underwater were Las Vegas (37 percent), Lakeland, Fla., (36 percent), Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla., (35 percent), Cleveland (35 percent), Akron, Ohio (34 percent), and Detroit (33 percent).
Markets with most resurfacing equity
Major metro areas with the highest percentage of resurfacing equity — between negative 10 percent and positive 10 percent — were Louisville, Ky., (37 percent), Columbia, S.C. (28 percent), Colorado Springs, Colo., (28 percent), Little Rock, Ark., (28 percent), and Tulsa, Okla., (27 percent).
“Homeowners are no longer underwater on their homes like they were at the peak of 2012,” said Sheldon Detrick, CEO of Prudential Detrick/Alliance Realty, covering the Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., markets. “Low housing inventory and more buyers are causing home prices to rise and sell over list price, giving homeowners who are moderately underwater a chance to avoid the foreclosure process.”
Major metro areas with the highest percentage of equity rich properties—those with at least 50 percent equity—were San Jose, Calif., (39 percent), Honolulu (35 percent), San Francisco (35 percent), Poughkeepsie, N.Y., (34 percent), and Los Angeles (32 percent).
Major metro areas with more than 50 percent of properties in foreclosure with equity included Denver (64 percent), Boston (58 percent), Minneapolis (58 percent), Houston (54 percent), and Washington, D.C. (52 percent).
“Home prices continue to rise due to record-low inventory levels. Our median closing price is now up to $313,846, which is substantially higher than it was a year ago, so there is no question that there are significantly fewer people who are underwater on their homes,” said Phil Shell, a managing broker at RE/MAX Alliance, covering the Denver, Colo. market.
“The short sale market really dried up about nine months ago, but we do still see some short sale transactions with higher-priced homes in the $700,000 to $800,000 plus range,” added Heidi Greer, also a managing broker at RE/MAX Alliance.