Many Homeowners Regain Home Equity in 2012, Millions More Still Underwater

Thousands of homeowners are seeing improvements in their home equity as the housing market continues its recovery, however, they represent a dent in the surface of total underwater mortgage holders.

Approximately 200,000 ore residential properties returned to a state of positive equity during the fourth quarter of 2012, according to data from CoreLogic. 

This brings the total number of properties that moved from negative to positive equity in 2012 to 1.7 million, bringing the total of mortgaged residential properties with equity to 38.1 million.

Despite steady gains in home prices, the number of homeowners who have moved into positive territory is overshadowed by a vast number of those still underwater.

Negative equity, often referred to as “underwater” or “upside down,” can occur because of a decline in value, an increase in mortgage debt or a combination of both. 

Data show that 10.4 million, or 21.5% of all residential properties with a mortgage were still in negative equity at the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, down from 10.6 million (22%) in the third quarter. 

Also of note is that out of the 38.1 million properties with positive equity, 11.3 million have less than 20% equity.

Underwriting constraints may make it more difficult for these borrowers to obtain new financing for their homes, according to CoreLogic.

Even more disadvantaged are the 2.3 million properties that had less than 5% equity by the end of the fourth quarter 2012. These “near-negative equity” borrowers are at risk should home prices drop, writes CoreLogic. 

Under-equited mortgages accounted for 23.3% of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide in the fourth quarter of 2012, the average amount of equity for all properties with a mortgage being 31%.

“The scourge of negative equity continues to recede across the country. There is certainly more to do but with fewer borrowers underwater, the fundamentals underpinning the housing market will continue to strengthen,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “The trend toward more homeowners moving back into positive equity territory should continue in 2013.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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