Fewer Georgia homeowners “underwater” but advance is uneven

More than eight years after the burst of the housing bubble, Georgia real estate remains more distressed than the national average, and while the pain has lessened, the improvement has been uneven.

The share of homeowners in the state who are “seriously underwater” has dipped recently, but it is higher than a year ago, according to a report issued this week by RealtyTrac, a California-based housing data firm.

Moreover, the share of homeowners who have significant equity in their homes has also slipped.

Georgia’s uneven progress contrasts somewhat with the picture nationally, where there has been greater progress toward full health.

— In the third quarter of this year, 16.9 percent of Georgia homeowners with mortgages owed at least 25 percent more than the market value of the property, said RealtyTrac. That is down from 17.3 percent during the quarter before, but it is up from 16.1 percent a year ago.

Nationally, 12.7 percent of homeowners are seriously underwater – about 6.9 million households. That is down from both the quarter before and from last year.

The improvement comes mainly because of a general rise in home prices, said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

— At the other end of the spectrum, 14.2 percent of Georgia homeowners are “equity rich,” that is, they have equity worth at least 50 percent of the property’s market value. That is down from 16.1 percent a year earlier.

Nationally, 19.2 percent of homeowners are in that “equity rich” position, about 10.5 million of them. That is also down from a year ago when it was 20.1 percent.

That drop in the share of high-equity homeowners is unexpected – and it seems to be for several reasons, said Blomquist. “(That is) evidence that more homeowners in this category are leveraging their equity through a refinance, move-up sale or by completely cashing out of the housing market.”