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Underwater borrowers regain confidence on home equity gains

8.3 million homeowners could be above water within 15 months

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Nationwide 10.7 million residential homeowners owe at least 25% or more on their mortgages than their properties are worth. However, another 8.3 million homeowners are now either slightly underwater or slightly above water, meaning they could have enough equity to sell their home within the next 15 months without having to resort to a short sale, the latest data from RealtyTrac revealed.

Those 8.3 million homeowners who are slightly above or below the water line have a loan to value ratio from 90-110%, which means they have 10% positive equity and 10% negative equity. The water-line skimmers total 18% of all U.S. homeowners with a mortgage as of September.

The 10.7 million who are significantly underwater have an LTV ratio of at least 125% and represent 23% of all U.S. residential properties with a mortgage. It’s important to note that this number is down from 11.3 million deeply underwater properties in May of this year and even further down from 12.5 million deeply underwater properties back in September 2012.

Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, believes steadily rising home prices are lifting all boats in this housing market and will likely mean more inventory of homes for sale in the coming months.

“Homeowners who already have ample equity are quickly building on that equity, while the 8.3 million homeowners on the fence with little or no equity are on track to regain enough equity to sell before 2015 if home prices continue to increase at the rate of 1.33% per month that they have since bottoming out in March 2012,” said Blomquist.

Blomquist added that nearly one in four homeowners in foreclosure has at least some equity, giving them a better chance to avoid foreclosure without resorting to a short sale — assuming they realize they have equity and don’t miss the opportunity to leverage that equity.

“Even homeowners deeply underwater have reason for hope, with about 150,000 each month rising past the 25% negative equity milestone — although it will certainly take years rather than months before most of those homeowners have enough equity to sell other than via short sale,” he added.

Oklahoma, Hawaii and New York were the three states with the highest percentage of foreclosures with equity, at 54%, 51% and 47%, respectively.

“New York metro home prices are increasing at a rate of about 1 percent per quarter and thousands of homeowners will now be in a position to sell and take some equity with them post-closing,” said Emmett Laffey, CEO of New York-based Laffey Fine Homes International.

States with the highest percentage of deeply underwater homes — homes with an LTV of 125% or higher — include Nevada (46%), Illinois (40%) and Florida (40%).

Many in the industry believe that an increase in equity will provide the added momentum necessary to the recovery as inventories rise and buyers begin to have more options. “Negative equity certainly impacts a homebuyer's decision to sell, and we expect sellers to come off the fence as prices rise and equity is gained back,” said Steve Roney, CEO of Prudential Utah Real Estate.

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