Seriously Underwater U.S. Properties Down 291,000 from Year Ago, According to ATTOM Data Solutions

The number of homes that are deemed “seriously underwater” is down by more than 291,000 properties from a year ago, according to property database curator ATTOM Data Solutions.

This figure, from the company’s Q1 2018 U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report, shows that the number of seriously underwater homes saw the smallest year-over-year drop since ATTOM began tracking in Q1 2013.

But what is a seriously underwater home?

According to ATTOM, it is a home where the combined balance of loans secured by the property was at least 25 percent higher than the property’s estimated market value.

We worry about such homes whenever we think of the Great Recession – which was of course led by the collapse in housing.

When homes are seriously underwater in good times, they become untenable in a housing downturn: homeowners facing housing debt worth tens of thousands more than their homes are worth often give up, leading to massive home abandonment. We all remember the suburban ghost-towns following the 2008 crash.

The 5.2 million seriously underwater properties at the end of Q1 2018 represented 9.5 percent of all U.S. properties with a mortgage, up from 9.3 percent in the previous quarter but down from 9.7 percent in Q1 2017.

One phenomenon of the last housing boom – home equity lending – is coming back with a vengeance.

“We’ve reached a tipping point in this housing boom where enough homeowners have regained both sufficient equity and sufficient confidence to tap into their home equity — resulting in a noticeably slower decline in seriously underwater properties and slower growth in equity rich properties,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions.

“This tapping of equity could take the form of a cash-out refinance, home equity loan or simply a home sale. We saw the biggest quarterly drop in average homeownership tenure for homeowners who sold in the first quarter since Q4 2008, evidence that more homeowners are reaching that equity-tapping tipping point more quickly and deciding to sell,” he said.

More than 19.5 million (19,513,871) U.S. properties had between 20 and 50 percent equity (LTV of between 80 and 50 percent) at the end of Q1 2018, down by 1,714,099 from a year ago, an 8 percent decrease.

Homes with 20 to 50 percent equity represented 36.1 percent of all properties with a mortgage as of the end of Q1 2018, down from 36.3 percent in the previous quarter and down from 37.6 percent in Q1 2017.

Equity rich properties represent one in four properties with a mortgage

More than 13.8 million (13,841,082) U.S. properties with a mortgage were equity rich at the end of Q1 2018, up by more than 122,000 from a year ago but still down from a peak of more than 14 million equity rich properties in Q2 2017.

The 13.8 million equity rich properties represented 25.3 percent of all U.S. properties with a mortgage, down from 25.4 percent in the previous quarter but still up from 24.3 percent in Q1 2017.

Highest share of equity rich properties in coastal California, Honolulu, Seattle 

States with the highest share of equity rich homes were Hawaii (41.6 percent); California (41.5 percent); New York (34.8 percent); Washington (33.1 percent); and Oregon (31.8 percent).

Among 98 metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, those with the highest share of equity rich homes were San Jose, California (66.1 percent); San Francisco, California (56.0 percent); Los Angeles, California (45.4 percent); Honolulu, Hawaii (43.1 percent); and Seattle, Washington (39.1 percent).

Highest share of seriously underwater properties in Scranton, Baton Rouge, Youngstown

States with the highest share of seriously underwater homes at the end of Q1 2018 were Louisiana (20.1 percent); Mississippi (18.0 percent); Iowa (17.2 percent); West Virginia (15.9 percent); and Illinois (15.9 percent).

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