The report identified Hartford, CT as the city with the “Highest Incidence of Negative Equity” in the entire country. They found that 56% of Hartford homes are underwater, meaning that the owner owes more on their mortgage than the home is worth in the open market. The table of the top 100 cities can be found on page 23 in the report.
Although there are certainly underwater property owners in the City, and related financial distress, the methodology used in the study is very likely flawed – overstating the problem in Hartford.
Page 37 of the Haas Institute report notes that the negative equity analysis used for the rankings comes from Zillow, with the authors referring the reader to this page on Zillow. My understanding of the process is that Zillow used their “Zestimates” and as the current value of a home, and data from TransUnion for mortgage amounts. The Hass Institute study authors then used the resulting negative equity Zillow calculated as the primary variable to sort the country’s cities and metro regions.
Zillow Zestimates have been consistently inaccurate in the City of Hartford. We have written about this before, here and here, with a representative from Zillow even engaging in the discussion. There has been no resolution – Zillow values continue to be well below what buyers are willing to pay for non-distressed homes. Our theory is that Hartford’s split assessment ratio is mucking up the Zestimates. Residential properties in the City are assessed at about 30% of market value instead of the 70% that all the other towns/cities in the state use.
We will send this along to the authors of the study and encourage them to do their own research into the potential data problem. The methodology seems flawed when considering housing in the City of Hartford. The questionable conclusion that they reached, which has been trumpeted by the local and national press, reflects poorly on the city in a way that’s not really fair. Ideally we would like to see the authors edit the report if they reach the same conclusion that we do.