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Falling home prices mean more hardships for owners

From Sandra Endo, CNN
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Survey shows sharp drop in home values
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zillow.com: Value of U.S. homes fell 3% from January 1 to March 30
  • Fall is the steepest quarterly decline since 2008
  • Fallen prices lead to "underwater" homeowners, fueling foreclosures
  • Obama: Administration trying to expand loan modification program
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Centerville, Virginia (CNN) -- The fallen value of Nancy Logan's home is making her chances of keeping it seem next to impossible. So the single mom sought an audience with the president of the United States.

Logan, who raised her plight with President Barack Obama last week during a CBS News town hall forum, is being laid off from her job with a government contractor. In January, her monthly mortgage payment will rise by $1,000 because her temporary loan modification -- made the last time she needed a break three years ago -- will expire.

Like millions of Americans, thanks to falling U.S. home prices, she is "underwater," owing more than the house is worth. This means she can't clear her debt by selling, and another loan modification -- which she says she needs to keep the house -- appears unlikely.

"My question to you, Mr. President, is do you have any plans to help improve the housing market so hardworking Americans like myself don't lose their homes?" Logan, of Centerville, asked Obama during Wednesday's taping in Washington.

"We've got more work to do," Obama said as part of his response. "So we are trying to expand the loan modification program to reach more people."

More loan modifications might be music to the ears of underwater borrowers as house prices continue to tumble.

A new nationwide survey from real estate Web site Zillow.com says the value of U.S. homes fell 3% from January 1 to March 30 -- the steepest quarterly decline since 2008.

The National Association of Realtors says the median price for a single family home has dropped to $158,700, down 30% from its high of $227,100 in 2006, CNNMoney reported.

Zillow's chief economist, Stan Humphries, said at a rate of 1% a month, home depreciation in 2011's first quarter was steeper than he'd anticipated, so he doesn't expect to see a bottom in prices before the end of next year. Zillow now expects prices to drop up to 9% throughout 2011, revised from up to 7%, Humphries said.

"The good news is that it seems to have stabilized, and we do expect that in the balance of the year, the monthly depreciation rate will start to fall as we head to a bottom," Humphries said.

Falling prices have helped fuel the nation's foreclosure crisis -- some underwater borrowers intentionally default, not wanting to pay more than their home is worth; others find themselves unable to modify their loans when they need to, such as when they lose income through divorce or layoffs. And foreclosed homes are sold cheaply, helping to deflate overall prices further.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told CNN that the Obama administration has helped nearly 4 million homeowners modify their mortgages. Some of them -- more than 500,000 as of Dec. 31 -- have been permanent, rather than short-term, modifications under the Home Affordable Modification Program, according to CNNMoney.

An inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which helps to fund HAMP, once criticized the HAMP numbers as "anemic," but Donovan said there would have been twice as many foreclosures without the administration's initiatives, Donovan said.

Obama said at Wednesday's forum that he wanted longer-term mortgage modifications and even principal reductions -- something banking groups have opposed -- "in some cases," CNNMoney reported.

Donovan said the government can't stop every foreclosure, but the administration is negotiating with lenders.

"If we can not get more help to people, but also improve the kind of help they're getting -- longer loan modifications, better loan modifications, maybe even reductions in the principal over time -- those are key pieces of what not only will be fair ... but it's also something that can benefit homeowners, neighborhoods and the economy overall because it will help improve the housing market," Donovan said.

Although 28.4% of single-family home owners are underwater, most of them are going to be able to make their mortgage payments and "ride out this negative equity patch and get into positive equity again," Humphries said.

Donovan said job growth should lift the housing market. Lawrence Yun, of the National Association of Realtors, said that in some markets, prices are firming up.

"Luckily, there are eager buyers coming into the market ... so in terms of home sales, they're rising, which is good news because we need to have activity to draw down the inventory, and only then can (prices) stabilize," Yun said.

Logan, who has been in her house for 12 years, said her lender says it can't discuss whether it can help her until the moment comes when she's unable to pay the extra $1,000 per month.

"I know ... it's going to be tough, so why can't we do something now?" she said. "They said, 'We can't; it's not a preventative program,' which I think it one of the biggest problems."

CNN's Jason Hanna and NuNu Japaridze and CNNMoney's Jennifer Liberto, Les Christie and Ben Mooney contributed to this report.

 
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