Lunch & Learn: The State of Housing

As housing supply dwindles, affordability concerns grow while competition heats up the market. This Lunch & Learn will examine the current state of housing, featuring experts who have an eye on the market.

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Mortgage

How does negative equity create a big obstacle for first-time buyers?

Zillow: 18.8% of homes underwater, 30.2% form bottom third

First-time buyers know owning is a better investment than renting, but the type of homes first-time buyers are looking for are being kept off the market in part because nationally, those homes are almost three times more likely to be stuck underwater than more expensive homes.

That’s the finding of the Zillow (Z) negative equity report for the first quarter.

The national negative equity rate fell to 18.8% in the first quarter, with almost 9.7 million American homeowners with a mortgage underwater, owing more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

Specific to the challenges of first-time buyers in terms of affordability, among all homes with a mortgage nationwide, roughly one in three (30.2%) priced within the bottom third of home values were underwater in the first quarter, compared to 18.1% of homes in the middle third and 10.7% of homes in the top third.

It is very difficult for an underwater homeowner to list their home for sale without engaging in a short sale or bringing cash to the closing table, which is a major contributor to inventory shortages across much of the country, even as negative equity slowly recedes.

More than one-third of homeowners with a mortgage (36.9%) are effectively underwater, unable to sell their homes for enough profit to comfortably meet expenses related to selling a home and afford a down payment on a new one.

“The unfortunate reality is that housing markets look to be swimming with underwater borrowers for years to come,” said Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries.  “It’s hard to overstate just how much of a drag on the housing market negative equity really is, especially at the lower end of the market, which represents those homes typically most affordable for first-time buyers. Negative equity constrains inventory, which helps drive home values higher, which in turn makes those homes that are available that much less affordable.”

Negative equity has fallen for eight consecutive quarters, but fell at its lowest pace in almost two years in the first quarter as home value growth slowed.

Negative equity fell from 25.4% in the first quarter of 2013 and 19.4% in the fourth quarter, while the pace of annual home value growth slowed to 5.7% in the first quarter, from 6.6% at the end of the fourth quarter. Looking ahead, the national negative equity rate is expected to fall to 17% of all homeowners with a mortgage by the first quarter of 2015, according to the Zillow Negative Equity Forecast.

At the end of the first quarter, the number of homes foreclosed nationwide fell to 4.9 homes per 10,000, from 5.4 homes per 10,000 at the same time last year. As foreclosure activity continues to fall, the pace of negative equity improvement will also slow, as homeowners’ debt is wiped from lenders’ books following foreclosure.

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