More homeowners are in positive equity

The number of home loan borrowers who are classified as being underwater is steadily declining.

More homes are coming up for air.

More than 273,000 residences in the U.S. regained positive equity in the third quarter of 2014, but about 5.1 million with mortgages remain "underwater," according to CoreLogic, a global property information provider.

It was an improvement from the second quarter, when 5.4 million homes, or 10.9 percent, had no equity.

The decline brings the total number of mortgaged residential properties with at least some equity in them to 44.6 million, or about 90 percent.

The Charleston-North Charleston area outperformed the national average, CoreLogic found. About 7.6 percent of local mortgaged homes, or 11,631, had negative equity in the July-September period. That's down from 8.3 percent, or 12,231 properties, from the previous three months.

Another 3.4 percent, or 5,189 homes, were on the bubble in near-negative equity territory.

Borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth are considered to be in a negative equity situation. It's also referred to as being "underwater" or "upside down."

Borrowers who are "under-equitied," those with less than 20 percent equity, could have a more difficult time refinancing or obtaining new financing to sell and buy another home. Borrowers with near-negative equity are considered at risk of having their home values move into the red if real estate prices fall.

In contrast, if home prices rose by as little as 5 percent, an additional 1 million homeowners now in negative equity would move to the positive side, according to CoreLogic.

Anand Nallathambi, the firm's CEO, said the overall shift toward positive equity should translate into less friction in the housing market.

"Better fundamentals supporting homeownership in the face of higher rents should attract more first-time homebuyers to the market this year and next," he said in a statement.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.