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More Than One Fifth of All American Homeowners Underwater on Their Mortgage

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house-web1RISMEDIA, May 7, 2009-Home values in the United States fell again in the first quarter, posting a year-over-year decline of 14.2% to a Zillow Home Value Index of $182,378, according to the first quarter Zillow Real Estate Market Reports, which encompass 161 metropolitan areas and cover the value changes in all homes, not just homes that have recently sold. Declining home values left one fifth (21.9%) of all American homeowners with negative equity by the end of the first quarter. By comparison, 17.6% of all homeowners owed more on their mortgage than their property was worth in the fourth quarter of 2008, and one in seven (14.3%) was underwater in the third quarter of 2008.

Nine consecutive quarters of declines have left eight regions – including the Modesto, Calif., Stockton, Calif. and Fort Myers, Fla. regions – with median value declines of more than 50% since those markets peaked. In 85 of the 161 markets covered in the report, the annualized change over the past five years is negative or flat.

But in an early sign of improvement, several hard-hit markets in California, like Los Angeles, San Diego and Modesto, have seen two or more consecutive quarters of smaller year-over-year declines in home values. In total, 17 markets have seen improvement for two or more quarters in year-over-year results.

In the Los Angeles metro area, for example, the Zillow Home Value Index fell 18.9% year-over-year, a smaller decline than the 20.8% and 20.7% declines seen in the third and fourth quarters of 2008, respectively. In San Diego, home values fell 18% year-over-year, after falling 19.1% and 18.9% in the third and fourth quarters of last year. Both markets have been hard-hit by the housing downturn: L.A.’s home values have fallen 33.6% since the peak of the market in the first quarter of 2006, and San Diego’s have fallen 35.4% since that market’s peak in the third quarter of 2005.

Meanwhile, potential sellers appear to be holding back until evidence of an improved housing market. In a separate survey of homeowner sentiment, one-third (31%) of homeowners said they would be at least somewhat likely to put their homes on the market in the next 12 months if they saw signs of a recovering real estate market.

“Slowing declines in select markets are a bright spot or, at least, what passes for one given current market conditions,” said Dr. Stan Humphries, Zillow vice president of data and analytics. “Unfortunately, given the magnitude of the current rates of decline, we’re still many months away from a bottom even as depreciation slows. Moreover, the additional information we have this quarter on ‘shadow inventory,’ with one-third of homeowners indicating they would like to put their home on the market if conditions improve, confirms our earlier fears that a bottom in home values could be quite protracted. By our calculations, this could translate into as many as 20 million homes that could seep into the market as prices stabilize, maintaining a constant stream of supply that far outpaces demand, thus keeping prices flat. I’m doubtful that we’ll see the bottom until 2010, and thereafter it’s increasingly clear that we’re likely to have a long bottom before we see meaningful recovery in home values.”

In the survey, 12% of homeowners said they would be “very likely” to put their home on the market if there was evidence the market was turning around, while 8% said they would be “likely,” and another 12% said “somewhat likely.” Of the homeowners who are at least somewhat likely to put their home up for sale, 71% would consider increasing home sales in their neighborhoods to be evidence of a market turnaround.

In other data, foreclosures and short sales remained steady in the first quarter. About one in five (20.4%) of all transactions in the previous 12 months were foreclosures, compared to 19.9% the previous quarter. Short sales made up 11.9% of all transactions in the previous 12 months, compared to 10.9% in the fourth quarter.

For more information, visit http://www.zillow.com.

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