Financial FAQs

According to the second quarter Zillow Negative Equity Report, the national negative equity rate continued to fall in the second quarter, dropping to 23.8 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage from 25.4 percent in the first quarter of 2013. The negative equity rate has been continually falling for the past five quarters.

More good news was that real GDP growth for the second quarter was raised to an annualized rate of 2.5 percent compared to the initial estimate of 1.7 percent and compared to a fourth quarter rise of 1.1 percent. Expectations were for 2.2 percent.

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Graph: Econoday

Final sales of domestic product showed a revised gain of 1.9 percent versus the advance estimate of 1.3 percent. This series increased 0.2 percent in the first quarter. Final sales to domestic producers (which exclude net exports) was nudged down to 1.9 percent versus the initial estimate of 2.0 percent. This followed a 0.5 percent gain in the first quarter.

In the second quarter of 2013, more than 805,000 American homeowners were freed from negative equity. However, more than 12 million homeowners with a mortgage remain underwater. Moreover, the effective negative equity rate nationally — where the loan-to-value ratio is more than 80 percent, making it difficult for a homeowner to afford the down payment on another home — is 41.9 percent of homeowners with a mortgage.

While not all of these homeowners are underwater, they have relatively little equity in their homes, and therefore selling and buying a new home while covering all of the associated costs (real estate agent fees, closing costs and a new down payment) would be difficult. Of all homeowners – roughly one-third of homeowners do not have a mortgage and own their homes free and clear – 16.7 percent are underwater.

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Graph: Zillow

Figure 3 shows the loan-to-value (LTV) distribution for homeowners with a mortgage from 2012 Q2 to 2013 Q2. Even though many homeowners are still underwater and haven’t crossed the 100 percent LTV threshold to enter into positive equity, they are moving in the right direction. The good news is that with these high rates of appreciation negative equity has been reduced at a fast pace in the near-term (this will change as home value appreciation moderates later on this year and into the next, as the current rates are not sustainable).

Over the last year Phoenix’s negative equity rate dropped by 20.4 percentage points, Las Vegas’ dropped by 20.1 percentage points and Sacramento’s dropped by 17.7 percentage points (Q2 2012-Q2 2013). However, nationally the effective negative equity rate remains very high at 41.9 percent. In a move-up market, homeowners with less than 20 percent equity will effectively still be “locked” into negative equity. On average, a U.S. homeowner in negative equity owes $74,700 more than what their house is worth, or 42.3 percent more than the home’s value. While roughly a quarter of homeowners with a mortgage are underwater, 92 percent of these homeowners are current on their mortgages and continue to make payments.

Almost half of the borrowers with negative equity have a LTV of 100 percent to 120 percent (the light red columns). Most of these borrowers are current on their mortgages - and they have probably either refinanced with HARP or the loans are well seasoned (most of these properties were purchased in the 2004 through 2006 period, so borrowers have been current for eight years or so). In a few years, these borrowers will have positive equity.

The key concern is all those borrowers with LTVs above 140 percent (about 8.7 percent of properties with a mortgage according to Zillow). It will take many years to return to positive equity … and a large percentage of these properties will eventually be distressed sales (short sales or foreclosures).

Harlan Green © 2013

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