America's Most Underwater Housing Markets

These cities have significant concentrations of negative equity.


Slide Show: America's Most Underwater Housing Markets


4. Orlando: Like other cities in Florida, the Orlando market saw tremendous demand from investors during the first half of the previous decade. Some were looking to cash in on the appreciating market through short-term property flipping, while others were buying properties for vacation homes. Although the market attracted interest from buyers in the Midwest and Northeast, condo developers also marketed developments specifically to foreign buyers, particularly in the United Kingdom, says Jack McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research & Consulting. "It's almost like [the British] were setting up another colony in the United States," McCabe says. Abetted by easy credit, such demand helped send home prices surging by more than 102 percent from 2002 to the market's peak in 2006. But the subsequent crash has been painful. The nearly 48 percent drop from the peak through the third quarter of 2009 has pulled 58 percent of single-family home mortgages in Orlando underwater, according to Zillow. And McCabe isn't optimistic about a quick rebound. "For the condo or condo conversion owner, literally they may carry them out feet first before they ever see that property reach 2006 values," he says. 

5. Greeley, Colo.: With 45 percent of single-family mortgages underwater, the Greeley, Colo., market has among the higher concentrations of negative equity in the nation. The predicament is rooted in an increase in smaller homes built during the first half of the previous decade that were purchased with risky, subprime mortgages, says Randy Moser, the president of the Greeley Area Realtor Association. "If you had a 550 credit score, you could maybe even get 110 percent financing [and] roll in your closing costs," he says. But after many of these buyers began falling behind on their payments, area foreclosures surged, and home prices fell about 15 percent through the third quarter of 2009. "We were probably one of the first counties in the United States that went into the foreclosure mess," Moser says. 

6. Bend, Ore.: From 2002 to early 2007, home prices in Bend, Ore., jumped by 99 percent, as second-home buyers and retirees were drawn to this community. But after the housing bubble popped and economy eroded, home prices have slumped some 32 percent through the third quarter of 2009. "We are seeing homes that people bought for $2.5 million now selling for under $1 million," says Kathy Ragsdale, the CEO of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors. Ragsdale says the initial phase of the downturn was triggered by evaporating demand from second-home buyers. But more recently, as unemployment has surged, many residents have found themselves unable to make their mortgage payments. Today, more than half of the residential property transactions in Bend are distressed sales, Ragsdale says. "It's huge when somebody stands up in a meeting and says, 'I have a home for sale, and by the way, it's not a short sale,' " she says. As of the fourth quarter of last year, roughly 41 percent of single-family home mortgages were underwater, according to Zillow. 

7. Minneapolis-St. Paul: Although this area is far removed from the cities most closely associated with the housing bubble, home prices in Minneapolis-St. Paul inflated significantly in the early part of the previous decade. Real estate values increased nearly 34 percent from 2002 to 2006. Brad Fisher, the president of the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, says subprime lending played a key role. "Outside of the coasts, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was one of the higher areas [of] subprime loans," Fisher says. "We have paid a price because of that." The subsequent 29 percent price decline through the third quarter of 2009 pulled nearly 39 percent of single-family home mortgages underwater by the fourth quarter of 2009, according to Zillow. 

8. Memphis: Home prices in Memphis didn't surge as aggressively as other markets during the boom. But pockets of subprime mortgages—coupled with a modest slump in prices over the past three years—have created a notable concentration of negative equity. Real estate values increased about 12 percent from 2002 to 2006, but prices then fell nearly 18 percent through the third quarter of 2009. And as of the fourth quarter of last year, roughly a third of all single-family home mortgages were underwater, according to Zillow. Glenn Moore, the president of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, argues that the negative equity is concentrated in a small part of the overall market. "It is limited to mostly suburban areas and maybe some areas where there was maybe some predatory lending going on," Moore says.