Negative equity still preventing the full recovery of the US housing market

Despite improvements in the negative equity rate, underwater mortgages are holding back the housing market in the United States from full recovery, especially in hard hit areas, a new report suggests. The rate of negative equity among home owners dropped a full percentage point in the third quarter of 2015, from 14.4% to 13.4%, and down 16.9% from a year ago, according to the latest research from real estate firm Zillow. It said that declining negative equity will allow almost a million newly freed home owners who have not yet refinanced or have been waiting to sell to do so before mortgage rates rise, which will likely happen in coming weeks. It also pointed out that negative equity affects not just the home owners who are underwater, but entire markets where high rates of negative equity are slowing recovery. Negative equity is one of the most persistent reminders of the housing market crash. Home owners who owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth cannot sell, which holds back markets from recovering. So, some eight years after the housing crash, it remains a major barrier to a full recovery in certain markets. In Las Vegas, for example, 22% of home owners remain underwater, and another 19% are effectively underwater, meaning they have less than 20% equity in their home and therefore can't cover the cost of selling their home and buying another. Las Vegas has had the highest negative equity rate in the country for the past four and a half years, and Kansas City and Cleveland, with 16.6% and 16.8% negative equity respectively, are not far behind. San Francisco and San Jose are the only large markets where less than 5% of home owners are underwater. Almost a million home owners were freed from negative equity in the third quarter of 2015. The improving rate means those people may be able to sell or refinance their homes before mortgage interest rates rise, as they are expected to do in the coming weeks. ‘Negative equity has become almost an afterthought in a handful of the nation's hottest markets, but is holding back the recovery in dozens of large markets nationwide,’ said Zillow chief economist Svenja Gudell. ‘Despite steady declines in negative equity, many cities are still facing tight inventory, especially among entry level homes. Those homes that are available are often not in demand and stay on the market for a long time. This can be extremely frustrating for buyers and sellers alike, as they come face to face with the difficult side effects of negative equity,’ she explained. She also pointed out that negative equity affects individual home owners, but markets with high negative equity rates tend to have fewer homes for sale, especially lower priced homes favoured by first time home buyers. In markets with a lot of negative equity, homes generally take longer to sell than in other places. The top five large metros with the smallest share of underwater… Continue reading

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