Equity Loans Putting Homeowners Under Water

Homeowners who took out second mortgages, or borrowed against their homes to use the money as a cash advance,  may regret their decisions.  Close to 40 percent are now underwater on their loans — owing more than their home is worth, according to CoreLogic Data.  The data show 38 percent of borrowers who took second mortgages are now under water, compared with 18 percent of mortgage holders who haven’t taken out home equity loans.  The study did not examine how the cash was used.  This type of negative equity can result from increased mortgage debt, a decline in home value — or both.  Additionally, the report found that during the 1st quarter of 2011 the number of underwater homeowners fell to 22.7 percent from 23.1 percent in the 4th quarter of 2010.   Although this decrease may seem like good news, it is due to the fact that completed foreclosures lessened the total number of homeowners in the market.

The study illustrates the consequences of easy borrowing amid the housing boom’s inflated prices.  Home-equity loans, which total approximately 10 percent of the mortgage market, have been a problem for both homeowners and lenders.  Second mortgages are any loan taken out on a property that is in addition to the first mortgage; they include home-equity loans and lines of credit.  Second mortgages are taking a toll on a fitful recovery, in which housing has been the weakest spot.  The S&P/Case-Shiller National Index recently showed that home prices fell another 4.2 percent nationally in the 1st quarter, its third straight quarter of price declines after a modest recovery in early 2010.  Across the country, prices have fallen 34 percent since peaking in 2006.  The inventory of unsold homes will take more than nine months to sell, according to the National Association of Realtors.  This is approximately 50 percent longer than is considered a healthy market.  “When a homeowner’s house is under water, “it’s harder to get a credit card or a car loan, you can’t put your home up for a small business loan,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.  “There are all sorts of little, pernicious effects that you don’t necessarily think about.”

Writing on the Mortgage Rates &Trends:  Mortgage Blog, Michael Kraus says “Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between negative equity and home equity loans.  Thirty-eight percent of borrowers with home equity loans are under water.  Those with negative equity and HELOCs (home equity lines of credit) are down $98,000 on average, compared to $52,000 for those without HELOCs.  Intuitively, this makes a ton of sense and serves to illustrate the danger of using your home equity as an ATM.  Hindsight being 20/20, of course.  The negative equity problem remains the most acute in all the same places.  Nevada leads the nation in negative equity, with an incredible 63 percent of Nevada homeowners with mortgages under water.  Fifty percent of mortgaged Arizona homes are upside down, followed by Florida (46 percent), Michigan (36 percent), and California (31 percent).  These figures have changed relatively little since the last report on home equity, and negative equity will likely remain a massive problem in these markets for years to come.  Also of interest is the amount that the average borrower with negative equity is underwater.  Across the country, the average person who has negative equity is $65,000 underwater.  The highest average negative equity is in New York ($129,000), followed by Massachusetts ($120,000), Connecticut ($111,000), Hawaii ($98,000), and California ($93,000).  These areas typically have the highest home prices, so the high amounts of negative equity make sense.”

Treating your home as an ATM by taking out a second loan puts owners in the position of being more than twice as likely as single-mortgage homeowners to owe more than it’s worth.  This scenario isn’t what economic leaders had pictured.  During the housing market’s boom years, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan promoted second mortgages and home-equity loans as a way to tap homeowners’ most valuable asset to pay bills or buy a car.  Then the bubble burst.  Because home values are still falling, those loans have now become just another burdensome payment.