Despite the recent bout of good news that's spreading through some real estate markets in the U.S., the word "underwater" is still part of the vocabulary in many others. In fact, the problem is still so widespread that Freddie Mac, the U.S.-supported mortgage company, this week announced it will drop a fee associated with refinancing deeply underwater mortgage loans. The fee drop signals that the government and its mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are determined to make the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP for short) work. Freddie Mac said it will eliminate a fee of 0.5 percentage point, known as a "cash adjustor," on home loans that are refinanced under HARP and have balances greater than 125% of the property's current market value.
The move aims to help underwater homeowners refinance their mortgages, thus enabling them to stay in their homes (as opposed to foreclosing or walking away). Freddie Mac officials said that they hope the drop of the fee will encourage more homeowners to take advantage of HARP.
There were 11.1 million homes with negative equity at the end of the fourth quarter 2011, according to a report from CoreLogic. The number of homes with negative equity (or that were "underwater") was up from 10.7 million the previous quarter, showing that the problem had not stopped growing at last tally.
Many underwater homeowners do wish to stay in their homes. Refinancing and taking advantage of HARP can help. But some good old motivational math can also help tremendously with moral, which is why I thought these calculators developed by HSH are interesting and potentially helpful:
- KnowEquity When is a calculator that aims to help underwater homeowners answer the question, when will I be above water again?
- KnowEquity How is a calculator that aims to help underwater homeowners what it will take to reach equity within a specified time frame.
Both calculators are helpful if you are trying to set a goal to stay in your home. Knowing what you need to do to get there is a powerful motivator.
Unfortunately, when looking at the numbers, underwater mortgages will not be disappearing anytime soon. While some markets are seeing values increase, it's just not enough to offset the lost equity that spans 11.1 million home loans. So seeing a bit of positive news in the form of help and motivation on this front is worth flagging.