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RISMEDIA, October 12, 2009—Recently, there’s been a fair bit of anecdotal discussion around the assertion that foreclosures, once a problem just for the sub-prime segment of mortgages, have been moving up-market. That is, people are suggesting that we’re seeing more foreclosures in the mid- to high-end segments of the market. 

Turns out, there’s a lot of truth to this idea. In 2006, at the height of the real estate bubble, homes in the bottom one-third of home values made up almost 55% of all foreclosures. Homes in the middle one-third of home values made up almost 29% of foreclosures and homes in the top one-third represented just 16% of foreclosures. In the accompanying chart, you can see the dramatic changes in the distribution of home values among foreclosed homes. In July 2009, the bottom one-third made up 35% of foreclosures, compared to 35% and 30% for the middle and top one-thirds, respectively. Those are shocking numbers: Thirty percent of foreclosures are homes in the top tier of local home values. That means that top-tier homes make up almost twice the proportion of foreclosures as they did just three years ago. 

High delinquency rates in Prime, Alt-A and Option ARM mortgage products and declining cure rates (the rate at which borrowers resolve their delinquency status) are resulting in many more foreclosures among borrowers outside of the sub-prime mortgage market (and in higher priced segments of the market). Amherst Securities Group recently provided some data showing the higher delinquency rates for these products and the strong relationship between increased negative equity and decreased probability of resolving delinquency status (see their Exhibit 9, which shows, of borrowers who are 30 days delinquent, the percentage who become 60 days delinquent by their current loan-to-value ratios, where values greater than 100 indicate negative equity). As of the end of the second quarter of this year, Zillow estimated that 23% of single-family homes with mortgages are underwater on their mortgages, so expect cure rates to stay lower than they would be otherwise. 

Looking at the distribution of foreclosures by home value can be significantly distorted by the variances in home values across the country. For example, it might appear that high-end homes as a percentage of all foreclosures is quite high nationally, but the reality is simply that areas with lots of foreclosures happen to be areas where home prices are higher. In order to better isolate the distribution of foreclosures by price segment without introducing the geographic variability of home prices, we have examined home prices while controlling for the local price level of all homes. 

Specifically, from all homes in the Zillow database with valuations (~70 million), Zillow computed the ratio between the current house value and the current level of the Zillow Home Value Index for the county in which the home is located. We then computed the 33rd and 66th percentiles of this ratio and assigned all homes to three price tiers: bottom (homes where the ratio was less than the 33rd percentile), middle (homes where the ratio was between the 33rd and 66th percentiles) and top (homes where the ratio was greater than the 66th percentile). We then extracted all foreclosures since 2000 and computed, by month, the percentage of foreclosures in the month represented by homes in each price tier. 

Stan Humphries is the chief economist for 

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