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Real Estate Money

A new analysis from Zillow has concluded that Chicago has more “underwater” mortgages than any other real estate market in the country, meaning there are more homeowners in Chicago than anywhere else whose houses are worth less than they still owe on their mortgage.

The total figure for the Chicago metro area, according to Zillow, is 413,690. That’s far and away the highest number of total underwater loans; New York comes in a distant second with 307,573.

According to the first-quarter data, Chicago also has the second-highest overall rate of homeowners with underwater mortgages, a concept referred to as negative equity. Nearly 24% of Chicago mortgages were underwater as of the first quarter. That’s actually a significant year-over-year improvement, down from 28.1% in the first quarter of 2014, but the market still trails only Las Vegas, which has a 25% negative equity rate.

Zillow calculated that rate by comparing the estimated values of each home to “all outstanding mortgage debt and lines of credit associated with the home,” meaning the analysis took into account home equity lines of credit and home equity loans, as well as traditional mortgages. Home values can, of course, be difficult to pinpoint (since something as simple as landscaping can increase home value by between 7% and 15%), but estimates can still act as valuable indicators of the overall condition of a market.

The national negative equity rate now sits at 15.4%, more than a three-point drop from this time last year. At the lowest point of the real estate crisis, more than 15 million American homeowners held underwater mortgages; that figure has now decreased to around 7.9 million.

But those homeowners are quite deeply underwater. “It’s great news that the level of negative equity is falling, but what really worries me is the depth of negative equity,” Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries commented in a news release, explaining that it could take up to a decade for many of those homeowners to build enough equity to get their mortgages right-side-up again.

He also explained that these underwater mortgages affect the entire market, especially with lower-end houses, because they prevent would-be first-time homebuyers from finding affordable entry-level properties.

“The logjam at the bottom is having ripple effects throughout the market, and as home value growth slows, it will be years before it gets cleared up,” Humphries predicted. “In the meantime, we’ll be left with volatile prices, limited inventory, tepid demand, elevated foreclosures and a whole lot of frustration.”

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