As US home prices plummet, an alarming number of buyers are underwater

As US home prices plummet, an alarming number of buyers are underwater

  • Finance
  • December 10, 2022
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Rising mortgage rates don’t just increase the cost of buying a new home. According to new analysis, an alarming number of homebuyers have found they already owe more than their home is worth.

About 250,000 people who took out a mortgage to buy a home this year are now underwater, meaning they owe more on their loan than the home is worth, Black Knight, a mortgage software provider, found out of here. Another million have less than 10% equity.

These unlucky homebuyers have been caught in a bind between historically high home prices and soaring mortgage rates, which have caused property prices to slide in recent months.

While the share of underwater mortgages is still historically low, “a clear risk allocation has emerged between mortgaged homes bought relatively recently and those bought early in or before the pandemic,” Black Knight said.

Overall, 8% of mortgages taken out this year are underwater — roughly one in 12 homes bought in 2022.

The rise in mortgage rates this year has played a part. Interest rates have more than doubled this year, rising to an average of 6.3% – a multi-decade high – weighing on home sales and prices.

While it’s not uncommon for new homeowners to be submerged for short periods, especially if they’re buying in the summer when prices are rising, “it’s a lot more pronounced than usual this year because prices are starting to cool,” Andy Walden said, President of Black Knight Corporate Research. The share of underwater borrowers tripled in October, he noted.

The situation is far worse for homebuyers who bought on government-backed mortgages, with 25% of those buyers facing water this year, according to the report.

In Colorado Springs and Honolulu, more than 30% of mortgage homes bought this year are under water. In Virginia Beach, about 22% is worth less than it is owed. It’s 20% in the California cities of Bakersfield, Riverside, San Diego and Stockton — cities with a large military presence where many people are buying homes on government-backed mortgages.

“It’s actually not the markets that are seeing prices fall the most — it’s the markets that are using more of these low-down payment types of credit” that are being hit the hardest, Walden said.

MoneyWatch: US house prices could fall by up to 20% in 2023 04:12

FHA and Veterans Administration mortgages allow homebuyers to buy homes with low down payments — as low as 3% for an FHA loan or none for a VA loan. That helps low-income buyers who don’t typically have a lot of money saved for a down payment, but it becomes a liability when house prices fall quickly and people are stuck in their homes.

“Unfortunately, the people who are hit first when home prices go down are the ones who haven’t been able to put down much,” said Selma Hepp, senior economist at CoreLogic.

Being underwater becomes a bigger problem as homeowners struggle to pay their debts — a data point that’s also rising.

“You see that borrowers who took out mortgages in 2022 default earlier,” Walden said. “You’re a little bit more burdened, you’re seeing a higher debt-to-income ratio and you’re seeing this spike in early-stage arrears. That becomes a problem when you’re late,” he said.

While both measures of distress are historically low, Walden says, they’re both on the rise. With mortgage rates likely to keep rising while the Federal Reserve keeps raising interest rates, Walden is worried that more people will fall under water.

“I expect it will get worse,” he said. “As prices continue to fall, expect these underwater properties to continue to rise.”

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