Is Housing Better Off Than It Was 4 Years Ago? Survey Says No

National numbers might be improving, but at the local level things are much different.

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Corvallis, Ore.

With cheerier news coming from the housing market recently, it's easy to think that the dark days of the worst housing bust in recent history are far behind us.

But for the majority of the nation's local housing markets, things are far from back to normal.

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According to a new report from real estate research firm RealtyTrac, 65 percent of local markets are worse off than they were in 2008. RealtyTrac evaluated more than 900 counties on five key metrics that impact housing, including average home prices and share of distressed sales.

"The U.S. housing market has shown strong signs of life in recent months, but many local markets continue to struggle," Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, said in a release.

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The culprits holding back housing markets across the country are very familiar. For starters, while the national rate has edged down slightly, unemployment rates increased in 854 counties of the 919 analyzed by RealtyTrac, a whopping 94 percent of the total.

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The massive pool of negative home equity also poses a huge challenge for the housing market going forward. Millions of Americans owe more on the mortgages that what their home is worth, trapping many who want to sell in deeply devalued homes.

High unemployment and high negative equity levels increase the potential for foreclosures and while another flood of distressed properties has not materialized nationally, many neighborhoods still face a backlog, which tend to drag down property values overall. According to RealtyTrac, 37 percent of all residential sales are of distressed properties.

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"While the worst of the foreclosure problem is in the rear view mirror for a narrow majority of counties, others are still working through rising levels of foreclosure activity, inventory and distressed sales as they continue to clear the wreckage left behind by a bursting housing bubble," Blomquist added.

All those factors have conspired to drive down average home prices in more than 70 percent of the counties RealtyTrac analyzed. That's kept more families underwater on the mortgages and less likely to sell and put more pressure on families in financially precarious situations.

Here's a look at where housing is worse off than it was four years ago:

*All figures are percent change from 2008 to 2012

County
Avg Sales Price*
Unemployment Rate
Foreclosure Inventory
Foreclosure Starts
Cook County, Ill.
-17%
41%
37%
4%
King County, Wash.
-16%
42%
62%
19%
Salt Lake County, Utah
-36%
100%
49%
59%
Pima County, Ariz.
-31%
12%
17%
6%
Honolulu, Hawaii
-20%
27%
650%
149%
Du Page County, Ill.
-18%
46%
65%
25%
Gwinnett County, Ga.
-19%
28%
24%
22%
Montgomery County, Penn.
-7%
50%
77%
122%
Snohomish County, Wash.
-16%
35%
94%
63%
Lake County, Ill.
-22%
30%
78%
28%

Source: RealtyTrac

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Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at mhandley@usnews.com.