Nearly 50,000 locals still underwater

Homes are lined up near Carmel Valley.
Homes are lined up near Carmel Valley. — K.C. Alfred

By Jonathan Horn

Tens of thousands of San Diego County homeowners continue to owe more on their properties than they are worth, despite the run-up in prices that has taken place over the last two years.

In the second quarter of this year, there were 46,585 county homeowners underwater on their homes, real-estate tracker Zillow reported this week. Those with negative equity make up about 10 percent of property owners in the county who have a mortgage, down from 21 percent in the second quarter of last year.

The homeowners were underwater despite an increase in the county’s median home price of more than $100,000 over the last two years.

“There were a lot of people that got caught at the top (of the housing bubble),” said Mark Goldman, a loan officer and real-estate lecturer at San Diego State University. “During the run-up, people were just out at a frenetic frenzy in 2006 and 2007. They didn’t care what price they paid for property.”

Negative equity in the county peaked at 35.6 percent of homeowners in the first quarter of 2012, but it appears those remaining underwater bought in areas with new construction completed just before the housing crash. Most of the negative equity in the county is in Chula Vista, Oceanside, San Marcos, Spring Valley and El Cajon.

As a whole, San Diegans who are underwater collectively owe $6.14 billion. That amount, however, should continue to decrease as San Diego home values rise, and people regain equity in their properties.

For example, in June, the median sale price in the county was $450,000, up 8 percent from June 2013, and 34 percent from the median in June 2012. Still, that’s a long way from the peak median of $517,500 in November 2005, according to CoreLogic DataQuick.

Zillow predicted that by the second quarter of next year, the percentage of homeowners underwater will decline to 7.6 percent in San Diego County.

“We knew it was going to take a long time to correct,” Goldman said. “There’s always going to be properties that are upside down. Is this more than normal? Yes, but we’re returning to a more stable market, and there will be people who just simply have paid too much for their property.”

Christopher Thornberg, founder of Beacon Economics of Los Angeles, said the move-up market will get a drastically needed boost as people regain equity in their homes.

“More of that equity means that people are going to have better access to capital, they’re going to have more money to put down on other properties,” he said. “The move-up buyer is the kind of buyer that drives new home construction.”

Nationwide, 17 percent of homeowners, or 8.7 million, were underwater in this year’s second quarter. Of the nation’s 35 largest metropolitan areas, San Jose had the lowest percentage of property owners underwater on their homes, with 4.6 percent, while Atlanta had the highest at 28.9 percent.

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Trulia: Home Price Recovery Not Shaping into Another Bubble

While home prices are rising today nearly as fast as they did during the peak bubble years of 2005 and 2006, Truliareassures “bubble-phobes” that they can rest easy in its latest report.

The company tossed its two cents into the bubble debate with the release of Trulia Bubble Watch, a report that compares various price indexes (including Trulia’s own Price Monitor) to per-capita income and rent data obtained from government releases.

According to Trulia’s findings, home prices are still 7 percent undervalued nationally, having come down from a peak of 39 percent overvalued in 2006. After the bubble burst, prices fell to being 15 percent undervalued at the end of 2011.

With prices still undervalued relative to fundamentals, Trulia insists that today’s rapid improvements still qualify as a rebound, not a new bubble.

“Home prices fell so much after the last bubble burst that they still remain below normal levels even as prices rise sharply today,” explained Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko. “Several forces are waiting in the wings that should slow down today’s rapid price gains before they rise into bubble territory again. More inventory, higher mortgage rates, and fading investor activity would each take home-price gains down a notch.”

That said, it’s still important to remain cautious. According to the report, eight of the country’s 100 largest metros are showing evidence of overvalued prices, including four in California (including Orange County, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Francisco) and three in Texas (Austin, San Antonio, and Houston).

“Although we’re far from bubble territory today, there’ll be another home-price bubble someday, somewhere,” said Kolko said. “The history of American real estate is full of speculation, bubbles, and busts. Even now, most people expect home prices to get back to the peak of the previous bubble again in the next 10 years. Prices may be far from bubble levels today, but we need to stay on guard for signs of the next bubble.”

 

 
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