CoreLogic … today released negative equity data showing that 11.1 million, or 22.8 percent, of all residential properties with a mortgage were in negative equity at the end of the fourth quarter of 2011. This is up from 10.7 million properties, 22.1 percent, in the third quarter of 2011. An additional 2.5 million borrowers had less than five percent equity, referred to as near-negative equity, in the fourth quarter. Together, negative equity and near-negative equity mortgages accounted for 27.8 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide in the fourth quarter, up from 27.1 in the previous quarter. Nationally, the total mortgage debt outstanding on properties in negative equity increased from $2.7 trillion in the third quarter to $2.8 trillion in the fourth quarter.
“Due to the seasonal declines in home prices and slowing foreclosure pipeline which is depressing home prices, the negative equity share rose in late 2011. The negative equity share is back to the same level as Q3 2009, which is when we began reporting negative equity using this methodology. The high level of negative equity and the inability to pay is the ‘double trigger’ of default, and the reason we have such a significant foreclosure pipeline. While the economic recovery will reduce the propensity of the inability to pay trigger, negative equity will take an extended period of time to improve, and if there is a hiccup in the economic recovery, it could mean a rise in foreclosures.” said Mark Fleming, chief economist with CoreLogic.
Here are a couple of graphs from the report:
Click on graph for larger image.
This graph shows the break down of negative equity by state. Note: Data not available for some states. From CoreLogic:
“Nevada had the highest negative equity percentage with 61 percent of all of its mortgaged properties underwater, followed by Arizona (48 percent), Florida (44 percent), Michigan (35 percent) and Georgia (33 percent). This is the second consecutive quarter that Georgia was in the top five, surpassing California (29 percent) which previously had been in the top five since tracking began in 2009. The top five states combined have an average negative equity share of 44.3 percent, while the remaining states have a combined average negative equity share of 15.3 percent.”
The second graph shows the distribution of equity by state- black is Loan-to-value (LTV) of less than 80%, blue is 80% to 100%, red is a LTV of greater than 100% (or negative equity). Note: This only includes homeowners with a mortgage – about 31% of homeowners nationwide do not have a mortgage.
Some states – like New York – have a large percentage of borrowers with more than 20% equity, and Nevada, Arizona and Florida have the fewest borrowers with more than 20% equity.
Some interesting data on borrowers with and without home equity loans from CoreLogic: “Of the 11.1 million upside-down borrowers, there are 6.7 million first liens without home equity loans. This group of borrowers has an average mortgage balance of $219,000 and is underwater by an average of $51,000 or an LTV ratio of 130 percent.
The remaining 4.4 million upside-down borrowers had both first and second liens. Their average mortgage balance was $306,000 and they were upside down by an average of $84,000 or a combined LTV of 138 percent.”
Until recently it was generally believed that only a small fraction of Americans would willingly choose to skip their monthly mortgage payment, aka “strategically default”, when they found themselves stuck in a negative equity situation.
The logic driving this belief was based on the notion that borrowers wouldn’t want to damage their credit profile or deal with the social stigma surrounding a public foreclosure. The assumption that most underwater borrowers will continue making their monthly payments (absent a life event) is factored into the analytics of risk managers, buyers and sellers of mortgage related assets, servicing managers, and regulators across the country.
What if this assumption is wrong? Is that inconceivable?
It wasn’t long ago when conventional wisdom convinced us that lenders would never make loans to borrowers that had virtually zero likelihood of being able to pay the loans back. In a 2010 study conducted by the Cato Institute, it was estimated that there were over 27 million Alt-A and subprime loans in the system by mid-2008. That’s approximately 50 percent of all loans in the market. Remember when we thought home price would never fall on a national level? Never been done and won’t ever happen, right? That assumption was shattered when home values nationally dropped between 30-50% from their peak in 2006, wiping out roughly $7 trillion of home equity in the process.
Fannie Mae recently published it’s latest National Housing Survey and exposed disturbing patterns and sentiments with American homeowners. For example, 46% of borrowers are “stressed” about their underwater mortgage, up from 11% in June 2010. That’s an alarming four-fold increase in three quarters. That statistic becomes even more concerning when viewing the sheer number of borrowers faced with negative equity. At the end of 2010, which doesn’t include the home price declines seen in 2011, CoreLogicestimated that 11.1 million homes, or 23.1 percent of all homes with a mortgage, were underwater. Think about those two stats this way – every morning, 46% of the estimated 11.1 million underwater borrowers wake up and debate why they should keep paying their monthly mortgage payment. Further weighing on borrowers is that 47% of borrowers surveyed reported higher household expenses than the year before…
From that perspective, it doesn’t seem inconceivable that our assumptions might be off base again. Is principal forgiveness the answer?
Probably not, and here’s why. Remember how many folks HAMP was supposed to save by giving them new loan terms? The number touted by the administration was over 4 million. In reality, the number is likely to come in around 500-750,000 permanent modifications. Imagine the scenario when a government sponsored principal reduction program is announced. Out of the 11 million underwater borrowers – you’ll probably get three times as many borrowers applying for relief. Maybe one tenth of them will actually qualify and be granted a principal reduction. In the meantime, some 20+ million applicants would have stopped making payments to “qualify” or be considered for qualification. How many of them will be able to or even want to get current again after they are turned down?
Like it or not, we have got to find ways to stabilize home prices, reward responsible behavior among existing homeowners, and encourage home buying. I don’t see any ideas on the table that would accomplish any of these objectives…. and the effects are starting to show up in data.