September 26, 2017
A rising tide of ‘underwater’ homeowners
The relentless slide in home prices has left nearly one in six U.S. homeowners owing more on a mortgage than the home is worth, raising the possibility of a rise in defaults, the very misfortune that touched off the credit crisis last year.

The result of homeowners being "underwater" is more pressure on an economy that is already in a downturn. No longer having equity in their homes makes people feel less rich and thus less inclined to shop at the mall.
And having more homeowners underwater is likely to mean more eventual foreclosures, because it is hard for borrowers in financial trouble to refinance or sell their homes and pay off their mortgage if their debt exceeds the home's value. A foreclosed home, in turn, tends to lower the value of other homes in its neighborhood.

About 75.5 million U.S. households own the homes they live in. After a housing slump that has pushed values down 30 percent in some areas, roughly 12 million households, or 16 percent, owe more than their homes are worth, according to Moody's Economy.com.

The comparable figures were roughly 4 percent underwater in 2006 and 6 percent last year, says the firm's chief economist, Mark Zandi, who adds that "it is very possible that there will ultimately be more homeowners underwater in this period than any time in our history."

Among people who bought within the past five years, it's worse: 29 percent are underwater on their mortgages, according to an estimate by real-estate Web site Zillow.com.

Bailout may help homeowners a little

The majority of homeowners still have equity, and even among those who don't, many continue to make their mortgage payments on time. The financial-bailout legislation could at least "keep things from getting much worse" by helping banks avoid the need to tighten credit further, says Celia Chen, director of housing economics at Economy.com. Still, she expects housing credit to remain tight and home prices to decline in much of the country for another year or so.

Prices are back to 2003 levels in the San Diego and Boston metropolitan areas, and back to 2004 levels in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Minneapolis, according to First American CoreLogic, a data firm in Santa Ana, Calif. (Source: Wall Street Journal)
Story Date: October 13, 2008
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