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Surprise! Your home may no longer be underwater

An aerial view of a residential area photographed near Pittsburgh, Penn.

After the housing bubble burst, millions of homeowners across the country were underwater on their mortgages. Well, in many places, the water has started to recede.  According to a new report from CoreLogic, almost two million residential properties regained equity last year.

You can chalk that up to low interest rates and home prices, which have been rising steadily for the first time since the housing market collapsed.

“In general, the parts of the country which were most seriously hurt by the crisis are where prices are rising fastest,” says Susan Wachter, the Richard B. Worley Professor of Financial Management at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Wachter says California’s housing market “is coming back really quickly.” Markets in Florida have improved, and Nevada is doing better, although it still isn’t in great shape.

“Arizona had the biggest improvement in their equity position in 2012,” says Molly Boesel, a senior economist at CoreLogic. Fewer than a third of the state’s homes were underwater. That’s down from a year earlier, when more than half were.

That gives homeowners the chance to buy, to sell, and to refinance, and it has effects that ripple throughout the economy. According to real estate economist Sam Chandan, there is a “wealth effect” on people with positive equity.

“They’re more inclined to spend,” he says. “They feel more confident.  In some cases, they may draw on that equity.”

If homeowners spend that money on repairs and remodeling, that means more construction jobs.

In the U.S., more than 10 million homeowners are still underwater on their mortgages, but CoreLogic says that, if prices rise by another 5 percent, close to two million more homes would re-gain equity.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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