"Even after four years of improvement, the recovery has not reached all corners," said Ben Graboske, senior vice president of Black Knight Data & Analytics. "When we looked at the population by home price levels, we found that over half of the nation's underwater properties are in the lowest 20 percent of their respective markets. That's the highest share on record."
At the current rate of improvement in home prices, it would take more than five years for the negative equity rate at the low end of the housing market to reach 2005 levels, which is twice as long as homes in the top tier of the market, according to Graboske.
As with everything in real estate, the underwater numbers vary depending on location. Nevada, where home prices are still 34 percent below their peak, wins the dubious distinction of having the largest share of underwater borrowers at 14 percent.
Looking beyond states, at the lowest end of local markets, the bottom 20 percent in terms of price, Memphis, Tennessee, Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis show negative equity rates at more than 40 percent. Again, these borrowers cannot move without paying into their homes and are 10 times more likely to default on their home loans than those who have even a small amount of equity.
Ironically, the negative equity on the low end of the market is fueling overheated price growth across even the midtiers of the housing market. That is because it plays heavily into the severe lack of supply of homes for sale this spring. Underwater borrowers are less likely to move. On top of that, homebuilders are not focused on the low end, because they can't make enough money on cheaper homes to offset their rising costs for land and labor. The resulting short supply pushes prices higher for what is available on the low end.