Statistical Indicators

More Homeowners Underwater as Depression-Era Depreciation Nears

Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nearly one-quarter, or 23.2 percent of U.S. homeowners with a mortgage, were underwater on the loan in the third quarter, meaning they owe more on the home than it is worth, according to figures released Wednesday by the real estate data provider Zillow.
The third-quarter underwater number rose from 22.5 percent in the second quarter and is the highest it’s been since Zillow began tracking negative equity in 2009.
The subtle hints of stabilization in home values that started emerging earlier in the year began to wane last quarter.
Zillow’s home value index recorded a 4.3 percent year-over-year decline in Q3 and was down 1.2 percent from the second quarter. The Seattle-based company says its index reading has fallen for 17 consecutive quarters now. The company’s market data shows the median home value nationwide has dropped to $179,900.
With home values nationally 25 percent below their June 2006 peak, the current housing downturn is approaching Great Depression-era declines, when home values fell 25.9 percent in five years (between 1929 and 1933), Zillow pointed out in its report.
Home values fell from the second to the third quarter in 77 percent of markets covered in Zillow’s study. In five of those markets – the California metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Ventura – home values began to drop again after five consecutive quarters of increases.
Other markets that showed signs of stabilization in previous quarters also faltered, with home values flattening or becoming negative in large metros like Boston and Denver.
“While not unexpected, the unceasing declines in home values signal that we’re in for a long, bleak winter of continued troubles for the housing market,” said Dr. Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist. “The length and depth of the current housing recession is rivaling the Great Depression’s real estate downturn, and, with encouraging signs fading, will easily eclipse it in the coming months.”
With home values declining again, more and more homeowners find themselves sinking in mortgage debt. Zillow says in some hard-hit markets, as many as four out of five single-family homeowners with mortgages were underwater in the third quarter.
Las Vegas had the highest percentage of underwater borrowers in Q3, with 80.2 percent in negative equity, followed by Phoenix with 68.4 percent. In total, 11 markets tracked by Zillow had negative equity above 50 percent.
“The high percentage of homeowners in negative equity continues to be troubling, in that it represents a huge number of people who are not only more vulnerable to foreclosure, but who are essentially trapped in their current homes and are prevented from selling and buying a new home,” according to Dr. Humphries. “This has profound implications for future demand and will be a millstone around the neck of the housing market.”
As home values continue to fall and negative equity’s grip gets tighter, additional signs of trouble have emerged.
Zillow says foreclosures have reached a new all-time peak, with 1.2 out of every 1,000 homeowners in the country losing their homes in September.
Sales of homes previously foreclosed in the past 12 months reached a near-peak level during that same month, with foreclosure re-sales making up more than one-fifth (20.1 percent) of all sales, according to Zillow. The company says the last time foreclosure re-sales reached similar levels was in March 2009, when they made up 20.5 percent of all sales.
Additionally, more than one-quarter (27.3 percent) of homes sold in September were sold for a loss, marking a near-peak level, Zillow reports. The peak was hit in February 2010, when 27.7 percent of homes sold went for a loss.
By: Carrie Bay

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