Number of underwater homeowners in metro drops slightly

The number of Twin Cities homeowners who owed more on their mortgages than their homes are worth dropped slightly in the first three months of this year.

According to the property information company CoreLogic, 57,008 residential mortgage holders, or 9.9 percent, were underwater on their mortgages. That compares to 10.2 percent in the fourth quarter of of 2013.

Although that is only a slight drop, it is still a good sign, said Herb Tousley, director of real estate programs at The University of St. Thomas.

Tousley said an increase in home prices is the main reason for the decline. He said a drop in unemployment also means more people are able to afford their monthly payments.

"People are continuing to pay their mortgage down, so the combination of the two is what's contributing to that lower number," Tousley said.

Nationwide, 12.7 percent of mortgaged homes remain in negative equity. The area where the problem is most acute is Tampa, Fla., where 29.5 percent of mortgage holders owe more than their homes are worth.

Tousley said the real estate market is continuing to move in the right direction - far from poor equity levels seen during the foreclosure crisis several years ago.

"I've seen numbers in the high 30s -- the 30 percent range -- of all the homes that had mortgage were underwater," he said. "So we've made significant progress, and I think we'll continue to do so."