Fewer homeowners drowning in mortgage debt

U-Haul

A U-haul truck is parked in front of a home in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The Tampa area has more underwater mortgages than anywhere else in America: roughly 30 percent. But even there, things are getting better fast. That’s down from nearly 41 percent this time last year, according to CoreLogic

“We’re seeing fewer people who are underwater. Prices have come back up,” says Brad Monroe, director of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. 

Homeowners are telling his members they’re finally out from under their mortgages and ready to move. “Calling them back and saying, 'It’s time now. Prices are there and we can do it,'” he says. 

Data from CoreLogic show that nationally, about 12 percent of homeowners owe more than their homes are worth. That’s a big drop from the first quarter last year when the number was around 20 percent. 

“Which is really good news for the housing market,” says Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist. 

“So many homeowners didn’t have equity or were under equity and didn’t participate in listing their homes for sale. And that’s why house prices increased over the last year or two so dramatically in those markets,” Fleming says.  

This is a virtuous cycle. Rising home values brought back equity to a lot of homeowners. That means more people can move if they want to. And, more homes on the market keeps prices from rising too fast. 

But just because people are no longer underwater in their mortgages doesn’t mean they can move right away. They need enough equity to pay for the expense of selling one home and a down payment on a new one.

“Paying broker’s fees, for example,” says Kostya Gradushy, project manager at Black Knight Financial Services. “And, if you only have 5 percent equity in your house, you’re not going to be able to cover those costs.” 

Black Knight says one in five homeowners today doesn’t have enough equity in their current home to afford a new one.

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