Though the housing market seems to have escaped many of the economic effects of the pandemic, certain areas are feeling more pain than others.
Western regions appear less likely to suffer COVID-related economic ruin than pockets of the Northeast and East Coast regions, which analysts assessed were more vulnerable during the fourth quarter of the year, according to AATOM Data Solutions, a provider of property-related data and analysis. Its report showed clusters in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. also are at greater risk during Q4.
ATTOM on Thursday released its fourth-quarter 2020 Special Report "spotlighting county-level housing markets around the United States that are more or less vulnerable to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic," the company announced.
Markets are considered more or less "at risk," AATOM representatives say, "based on the percentage of homes currently facing possible foreclosure, the portion of homes with mortgage balances that exceed the estimated property value, and the percentage of local wages required to pay for major home ownership expenses."
The report reveals that New Jersey, Illinois, California, Louisiana, New York, Florida, and Maryland had 40 of the 50 counties most vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic in Q4 2020.
Five of the seven western counties in the top 50 were in northern California, while Illinois had eight of the nine midwestern counties among those most vulnerable. Outside of Florida and Maryland, the only southern state with more than two counties in the top 50 was Louisiana.
Q4 trends generally were similar to third-quarter results, but with different concentrations around several major metropolitan areas.
"The number of counties among the top 50 most at-risk was up from five to eight in the New York, NY, area and from three to six in the Chicago, IL, area, but down from four to two in the Washington, D.C., region and from four to one in the Baltimore, MD area," according to the report.
Researchers note that their findings come as the national housing market continues to withstand the effect of the virus pandemic while also remaining vulnerable to a fall. Home prices shot up by more than 10% in 2020 in about three quarters of the country, even as the overall economy suffered. They say the housing market boom faces "major questions connected to how long the pandemic will last."
"Areas of the U.S. most at risk from damage connected to the Coronavirus pandemic spread out somewhat in the fourth quarter of 2020. But they still fell mainly along the East Coast, with significant pockets in certain areas, while other parts of the country seem to be less vulnerable," said Todd Teta, Chief Product Officer with ATTOM Data Solutions. “This report is not a sign that any area actually took a fall in the fourth quarter. It’s more a gauge of areas that may be more vulnerable if the market falters. In the coming months, much will depend on whether the country can halt the pandemic. We will continue to keep a close watch on home sales and prices to see how everything shakes out in 2021 and if changes hit different regions in different ways.”
The report highlights the attributes of the most at-risk regions, noting that those areas have higher levels of unaffordable housing, underwater mortgages, and foreclosure activity. The opposite is true for those at least risk.
Major homeownership costs (mortgage payments, property taxes, and insurance) consumed more than 30% of average local wages in 36 of the 50 counties that were most vulnerable to market problems connected to the virus pandemic in the fourth quarter of 2020.
At least 15% of mortgages were underwater in the third quarter of 2020 (the latest data available on owners owing more than their properties are worth) in 33 of the 50 most at-risk counties.
More than one in 2,500 residential properties faced a foreclosure action in Q3 of 2020 (the latest available data) in 29 of the 50 most at-risk counties. Nationwide, one in 5,048 homes were in that position. (Foreclosure actions dropped about 80% last year amid a federal moratorium on banks taking back properties from homeowners behind on their mortgages during the virus pandemic.)
The entire report with regional breakdowns and methodology is available on ATTOM.com.