Research and analytics company CoreLogic reported last week that 23% of all homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.  All together, the negative equity of our nation’s homes is around $750 billion. 

I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty scary that nearly one quarter of all homes have negative equity.  Even if those homeowners don’t default and continue to pay their mortgage, this is a huge deterrent to recovery for the housing market.  In a healthy market, many of these folks would be selling and buying, either trading up or downsizing, or simply moving to a different location.  Instead, 11.1 million homeowners are stuck in their homes, unable to sell because of negative equity.

As noted in previous posts, I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m certainly not an economist, but as I’ve mentioned, one possible solution seems pretty obvious:  Principal reduction.  Since the top of the market in April of 2006, home values have dipped by an average of 32.8%.  The majority of the people who are underwater today bought or refinanced at the height of the market…..what if their mortgages were reduced by 30%?  Do you think that would help reduce defaults and stimulate sales?  Of course it would!

Logically, this seems like a good idea.  If banks are going to lose the money anyway if a home is foreclosed or sold short, why not take the loss up front and bring some real stability back to the housing market?  Although a few banks have offered some principal reductions, it is rare, and I have yet to hear a really good answer as to why more don’t. If you understand what seems to be some twisted bank logic, please explain it to me.

In the meantime, I predict that we will see an increase in short sales. As banks are providing few meaningful loan modifications and with the economy still shaky, even those people intent on staying in their homes despite negative equity may be forced to sell because of loss of job, decreased income or relocation.  Fighting $750 billion in negative equity is a not a battle that will be quickly won.

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