You don’t keep paying for something that you own.
From FirstAmerican Core Logic:
…more than 11.3 million, or 24 percent, of all residential properties with mortgages were in negative equity at the end of the fourth quarter of 2009, up from 10.7 million and 23 percent at the end of the third quarter of 2009. An additional 2.3 million mortgages were approaching negative equity at the end of last year, meaning they had less than five percent equity. Together, negative equity and near-negative equity mortgages accounted for nearly 29 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide.
Negative equity means the mortgage balance is higher than the value of the home.
The bulk of underwater properties are concentrated in five states: California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan. Nevada leads the way in terms of most homes with negative equity at a whopping 70 percent.
But the rate would be far lower if one simply calculated the amount of equity that Americans have in their homes. Since this is the portion of real estate for which they don’t pay anything, it is the only portion that is truly “owned.”
Subtract folks who owe more on their homes than they are worth and the home-ownership rate drops from 67% to 43%.
Update: Reader Dan Hess offers a better calculation in the comments. He correctly notes that underwater homes are 24% of homes with mortgages, not 24% of all homes as I implied in the math above. Backing out these homes would reduce the homeownership rate to 57%. Though backing out ALL mortgage debt, even on homes with owner equity, would lower the ownership rate even more.
This isn’t merely academic. Having equity in their homes is a big reason homeowners keep paying their mortgage, which is necessary for banks to stay solvent.