Real Estate

Millions of 'underwater' homeowners are trapped

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Temperatures are warming and potential homebuyers are coming out to shop, but they are finding precious little for sale.

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Weak housing construction and the growth of the single-family rental market have pushed down supply for sure, but one nagging leftover of the housing crash is literally trapping potential sellers in their homes: Negative equity.

Some 5.4 million homes, or 10.4 percent of all homes with a mortgage, were still in a negative equity position, or "underwater," in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to CoreLogic, as their owners owe more on the mortgage than the home is currently worth. This is down considerably —18.9 percent, from a year ago—but it still keeps these borrowers from putting their homes on the market, because they would lose money. (Tweet This)

Additionally, of the 49.9 million U.S. homes with a mortgage, approximately 10 million (20 percent) have less than 20 percent equity, and 1.4 million have less than 5 percent, according to CoreLogic. These homeowners also would have a difficult time selling because not only would they lose money in the process, but they also might not qualify for a new mortgage.