According to ATTOM Data's fourth-quarter 2021 U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report, 41.9 percent of mortgaged residential properties in the United States were considered equity-rich in the fourth quarter, meaning that the combined estimated amount of loan balances secured by those properties was no more than 50 percent of their estimated market values.
The portion of mortgaged homes that were equity-rich in the fourth quarter of 2021 - nearly one of every two - was up from 39.5 percent in the third quarter of 2021 and from 30.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The report also shows that just 3.1 percent of mortgaged homes, or one in 32, were considered seriously underwater in the fourth quarter of 2021, with a combined estimated balance of loans secured by the property of at least 25 percent more than the property's estimated market value. That was down from 3.4 percent of all U.S. homes with a mortgage in the prior quarter and 5.4 percent, or one in 18 properties, a year earlier.
Across the country, 48 states saw equity-rich levels increase from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2021, while seriously underwater percentages decreased in 46 states. Year over year, equity-rich levels rose in 49 states, including the District of Columbia, as seriously underwater portions dropped in 48 states, including the District of Columbia.
The latest gains at both ends of the equity scale came as the U.S. housing market concluded one of its best years in the past decade, even as the national economy was only gradually recovering from the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic that hit in 2020. The market surged amid a flood of new home buying spurred heavily by rock-bottom mortgage rates and a desire of many households to trade life in congested virus-prone locales for the wider spaces afforded by a house and yard.
As those buyers pursued a tight supply of properties for sale, the median national single-family home price shot up past $300,000. Typical values spiked more than 10 percent across most of the country last year. Equity improved as rising prices widened gaps between what homeowners owed on their mortgages and the value of the properties.
Some warning signs of a weakening foundation under the market have emerged in the second half of 2021 in the form of declining home affordability, rising foreclosures and falling investor profits. Economic inflation and the likelihood of interest rates going up this year pose additional concerns. But the fourth-quarter saw some of the biggest improvements in the past few years in the portions of mortgage payers who were either equity-rich or seriously underwater.
"Another quarter, another boost to the balance sheets of homeowners in most of the United States - that was the story from the fourth quarter of last year. As home prices kept rising, so did the equity built up in residential properties, to the point where close to half of all mortgage payers around the country found themselves in equity-rich territory," said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM. "No doubt, there are market metrics that pose warnings about how long the boom can last and equity can keep improving. We keep watching those closely. But for now, homeowners are sitting pretty as the wealth they have tucked away in their homes keeps growing."
Biggest improvement in equity-rich share of homes across western and southern states
The West and South had 13 of the 15 states where the equity-rich share of mortgaged homes rose most from the third quarter of 2021 to the fourth quarter of 2021. States with the biggest increases were Tennessee, where the portion of mortgaged homes considered equity-rich rose from 41.4 percent in the third quarter of 2021 to 47.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021, North Carolina (up from 38.6 percent to 44.2 percent), Nevada (up from 44.9 percent to 49.8 percent), Georgia (up from 35.3 percent to 40.1 percent) and Arizona (up from 53.2 percent to 57.6 percent).
States where the equity-rich share of mortgaged homes decreased or went up the least from the third to the fourth quarter of last year were Wyoming (down from 25.8 percent to 24.5 percent), Connecticut (down from 30.6 percent to 29.7 percent), Kentucky (up from 30.9 percent to 31.3 percent), Alaska (up from 23 percent to 23.9 percent) and Illinois (up from 21.5 percent to 22.5 percent).
Largest declines in underwater properties across South and Midwest
Fourteen of the 15 states with the biggest declines in the percentage of mortgaged homes considered seriously underwater from the third quarter of 2021 to the fourth quarter of 2021 were in the South and Midwest. They were led by Mississippi (share of mortgaged homes seriously underwater down from 17.7 percent to 12.2 percent), Maine (down from 5.8 percent to 4.4 percent), Iowa (down from 8.4 percent to 7 percent), West Virginia (down from 7.1 percent to 5.9 percent) and Arkansas (down from 7 percent to 5.9 percent).
States where the percentage of seriously underwater homes rose or declined the least from the third to the fourth quarter of 2021 were Wyoming (up from 11.5 percent to 14.3 percent), Connecticut (up from 3.8 percent to 4.3 percent), Arizona (up from 1.3 percent to 1.4 percent), Utah (up from 1.23 percent to 1.24 percent) and South Dakota (down from 4.61 percent to 4.6 percent).
West continues to have largest shares of equity-rich homes; Midwest and South still have smallest
The highest levels of equity-rich properties around the U.S. remained in the West during the fourth quarter of 2021. Nine of the top 10 states with the highest levels in the fourth quarter were in that region, led by Idaho (66.7 percent of mortgaged homes were equity-rich), Vermont (64.8 percent), Utah (62.5 percent), Washington (58.6 percent) and Arizona (57.6 percent).
Twelve of the 15 states with the lowest percentages of equity-rich properties in the fourth quarter of 2021 were in the Midwest and South, led by Illinois (22.5 percent of mortgaged homes), Louisiana (22.5 percent), Alaska (23.9 percent), Wyoming (24.5 percent) and Mississippi (26.3 percent).
Among 106 metropolitan statistical areas with a population greater than 500,000, the top 20 with the highest shares of mortgaged properties that were equity-rich in the fourth quarter of 2021 were in the West and South. The top five were Austin, TX (70.6 percent equity-rich); Boise, ID (67.3 percent); San Jose, CA (66.1 percent); Spokane, WA (64.1 percent) and Salt Lake City, UT (64 percent). While Austin again led the South and Boise led the West, the leader in the Northeast region remained Boston, MA (50.6 percent), while the top metro in the Midwest continued to be Grand Rapids, MI (46.6 percent).
The 10 metro areas with the lowest percentages of equity-rich properties in the fourth quarter of 2021 were in the Midwest and South, led by Jackson, MS (17.1 percent of mortgage homes were equity-rich); Baton Rouge, LA (17.5 percent); Wichita, KS (18.5 percent); Little Rock, AR (21.7 percent) and Virginia Beach, VA (23.1 percent).
The portion of mortgaged homes considered equity rich rose from the third quarter of 2021 to the fourth quarter of 2021 in 101 the 106 metro areas analyzed (95 percent) while all but two (98 percent) improved year over year.
Top equity-rich counties remain clustered in West region
Among 1,605 counties that had at least 2,500 homes with mortgages in the fourth quarter of 2021, 36 of the top 50 equity-rich locations were in the West.
Counties with the highest share of equity-rich properties were Dukes County (Martha's Vineyard), MA (80.5 percent equity-rich); Valley County, ID (north of Boise) (79.4 percent); Teton County (Jackson), WY (77.3 percent); Nantucket County, MA (76.1 percent) and San Juan County, WA (outside Bellingham) (76 percent).
Counties with the smallest share were Cumberland County (Fayetteville), NC (7.8 percent equity-rich); Geary County (Junction City), KS (10 percent); Campbell County (Gillette), WY (10.1 percent); Greenup County (Russell), KY (10.1 percent) and Hoke County, NC (outside Fayetteville) (11 percent).
At least half of all properties considered equity-rich in almost 2,500 zip codes
Among 8,651 U.S. zip codes that had at least 2,000 residential properties with mortgages in the fourth quarter of 2021, there were 2,466 (29 percent) where at least half the mortgaged properties were equity-rich.
Forty-five of the top 50 continued to be in California, Texas, Massachusetts and Idaho, with 13 of the top 25 in Austin, TX. They were led by zip codes 02539 in Edgartown, MA (82.7 percent of mortgaged properties were equity-rich); 78739 in Austin, TX (82.1 percent); 78617 in Del Valle, TX (81.7 percent); 02557 in Oak Bluffs, MA (81.6 percent) and 78749 in Austin, TX (81.3 percent).
South and Midwest continue to have highest shares of seriously underwater properties
Nine of the 10 states with the highest shares of mortgages that were seriously underwater in the fourth quarter of 2021 were in the South and Midwest. The top five were Wyoming (14.3 percent seriously underwater), Mississippi (12.2 percent), Louisiana (10 percent), Illinois (7.1 percent) and Iowa (7 percent).
Among 106 metropolitan statistical areas with a population greater than 500,000, those with the largest shares of mortgages that were seriously underwater in the fourth quarter of 2021 were Jackson, MS (12.3 percent); Baton Rouge, LA (11.2 percent); Wichita, KS (8.9 percent); New Orleans, LA (7.5 percent) and Scranton, PA (7.1 percent).
Among the 106 metro areas, 92 (87 percent) showed a decrease in levels of seriously underwater properties from the third to the fourth quarter of 2021. Seriously underwater rates dropped, year over year, in 102 of those areas (96 percent).
More than 25 percent of residential properties seriously underwater in just 18 zip codes
Among 8,651 U.S. zip codes that had at least 2,000 homes with mortgages in the fourth quarter of 2021, there were only 18 locations where more than 25 percent of mortgaged properties were seriously underwater. Four of the 18 were in Cleveland, OH.
The top five zip codes with the largest shares of seriously underwater properties in the fourth quarter of 2021 were 04330 in Augusta, ME (68.2 percent of mortgaged homes were seriously underwater); 44108 in Cleveland, OH (43.3 percent); 44112 in Cleveland, OH (39.6 percent); 10570 in Pleasantville, NY (38.6 percent) and 66441 in Junction City, KS (37.1 percent).