RealtyTrac 2014 Election Housing Market Scorecard

Report Scores More than 1,500 Counties Based on Up to Five Factors Affecting Housing;
Includes In-Depth Analysis of Housing Markets in Eight States with Tight Senate Races;
Heat Map Displays Housing Metrics Behind Score for Each County;

IRVINE, Calif. – Oct. 14, 2014 — RealtyTrac® (www.realtytrac.com), the nation’s leading source for comprehensive housing data, today released a 2014 Election Housing Scorecard report analyzing the health of local housing markets in more than 1,500 counties nationwide compared with two years ago.

The report scored 1,547 U.S. county housing markets based on up to five factors impacting housing health: housing affordability compared to two years ago, unemployment rates compared to two years ago, foreclosure starts compared to two years ago, median home prices compared to two years ago, and the percentage seriously underwater homeowners. County housing markets were categorized as Better Off, Worse Off or a Toss-Up based on this score (see full methodology below).

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A total of 811 county housing markets representing 52 percent of all those analyzed were categorized as Better Off compared to two years ago, while 176 (11 percent) were categorized as Worse Off and 560 (36 percent) were categorized as a Toss-Up.

Total population in the Better Off housing markets was 140 million, 50 percent of the total population in all housing markets analyzed for the report, while the Worse Off housing markets had a total population of 24 million (9 percent), and the Toss-Up housing markets had a total population of 115 million (41 percent).

“The housing market recovery has truly taken hold in about half of the country, but the recovery is weak or experiencing a relapse in the other half,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. “Whether because of good government policy, sheer luck or otherwise, the majority of county housing markets in six of the eight states with close U.S. Senate races are better off than they were two years ago. This should favor the incumbent, or the incumbent’s party, all else being equal — which of course we know it is not. The only exceptions were Iowa and Alaska, where the majority of county housing markets were classified as toss-ups compared with two years ago.”

With three weeks to go before the election, here is RealtyTrac’s Housing Scorecard the housing market in eight highly contested Senate races in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Georgia housing market favors Republican incumbent party with incumbent retiring
Of the 80 counties in Georgia with sufficient housing data to score, 56 were categorized as Better Off while 19 were categorized as Toss-Ups and five were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off counties had a population of 5.8 million, representing 70 percent of the total population in counties with data. The Toss-Up counties had a population of 2.0 million, representing 25 percent of the total population in counties with data. The Worse Off counties had a population of 427,117, representing 5 percent of the total population in counties with data.

In Georgia’s three largest housing markets, unemployment is down over the past two years. In Fulton County, unemployment is down 1.5 percentage points, while Dekalb County is down 1.30 percentage points and Gwinnett County’s jobless rate is down 1.2 percentage points. Meanwhile, seriously underwater borrowers are still a concern in Georgia. In Dekalb County, 31 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are seriously underwater, compared with 19 percent in Fulton County and 9 percent in Gwinnett County. However, double-digit rises in home prices are buoying Georgia’s real estate market. In Dekalb County, home prices are up 49 percent compared to two years ago, while Fulton County saw home values increase 30 percent and Gwinnett County registered a 33 percent increase in home prices. The sharp rise in home prices without a corresponding rise in incomes is worsening the affordability situation in the major Georgia counties. The percentage of median income needed to purchase a median priced home is up 7 percentage points from two years ago in Fulton and Dekalb counties and is up 5 percentage points in Gwinnett County.

Meanwhile, foreclosure starts are significantly lower compared with two years ago in the major Georgia counties. In Dekalb County, foreclosure starts plunged 55 percent from August 2012 to August 2014. Fulton County saw a 58 percent decrease in foreclosure starts, while Gwinnett County saw foreclosure starts drop 62 percent.

Georgia Republican candidate with slight lead in the polls
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring, so this open race should be intriguing. If no Senate candidate receives greater than 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 4, Georgia would hold a Jan. 6 runoff after Congress is sworn in on Jan 3. The Senate battle in Georgia is a trifecta featuring Republican David Perdue, Democrat Michelle Nunn and Libertarian candidate Amanda Swafford. Third-party candidates often fade, but Swafford’s candidacy could force a runoff and prolong the political theatre in the Peach State. An Oct. 1 Rasmussen poll shows Republican David Perdue holds a slight lead over Democrat Michelle Nunn, with Perdue drawing 46 percent of the vote to Democrat Nunn’s 42 percent.

North Carolina housing market favors Democratic incumbent
Of the 83 counties in North Carolina with sufficient housing data to score, 66 were categorized as Better Off while 12 were categorized as Toss-Ups and five were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off counties had a population of 7.3 million, representing 80 percent of the total population in counties with data. The Toss-Up counties had a population of 1.5 million, representing 16 percent of the total population in counties with data. The Worse Off counties had a population of 386,903, representing 4 percent of the total population in counties with data.

In North Carolina’s three largest real estate markets — Mecklenburg, Wake and Guilford — the housing market favors the incumbent. Unemployment is down from two years ago in all three major housing markets: including Mecklenburg County’s unemployment rate is down 2.8 percentage points, Wake County’s unemployment rate is down 2.3 percentage points, and Guilford County’s unemployment rate is down 3.0 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the percentage of homeowners underwater is below the national average in all three of these counties thanks in part to rising home prices from two years ago. Homes are less affordable than they were two years ago in all three of the most populated North Carolina counties, but that shift away from affordability is not as dramatic in these counties as the nationwide average.

Two of the three most populated North Carolina counties show a decrease in foreclosure starts from a year ago, with Mecklenburg County foreclosure starts down 50 percent and Guilford County foreclosure starts down 37 percent. In contrast, Wake County foreclosure starts are up 18 percent compared with two years ago.

North Carolina Democratic incumbent maintaining narrow edge in the polls
Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan is in a dogfight against Republican state House SpeakerThom Tillis. The Tar Heel state tilts Democratic. North Carolina, a state that typically favors the GOP, is seen as a prime pick-up opportunity for that party. Tillis is the face of an unpopular legislature, but neither Obama nor Hagan is particularly popular in the state either. A Sept. 28 CNN/ORC International poll gives Senator Hagen a three point advantage over her Republican challenger, with the incumbent ahead by 46 to 43 margin, with Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh receiving 7 percent.

Colorado housing market favors Democratic incumbent
Of the 35 counties in Colorado with sufficient housing data to score, 33 were categorized as Better Off while two were categorized as Toss-Ups and none were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off counties had a population of 4.8 million, representing 99 percent of the total population in counties with data. The two Toss-Up counties had a population of 40,385, representing 1 percent of the total population in counties with data.

In Denver’s most populated housing counties — El Paso, Denver County and Arapahoe — the housing data favors the incumbent.

Unemployment is down in all three counties. In Denver County, unemployment is down 3.0 percentage points from July 2012 to July 2014, compared with a 2.9 percentage point decrease in El Paso County and a 2.5 percentage point decrease in Arapahoe County. The tide of seriously underwater Colorado borrowers is also receding, with only 6 percent of homeowners with a mortgage who are underwater in the three most-populated counties.

Meanwhile, home prices are rising in all three counties compared with two years ago. In Arapahoe County, home prices are up 22 percent, in Denver County home values are up 14 percent, while El Paso County saw home prices rise 5 percent. However, the rise in Colorado home prices without a corresponding rise in incomes is worsening the affordability situation in the major Colorado counties. The percentage of median income needed to purchase a median priced home is up 5 percentage points from two years ago in Denver and Arapahoe counties and is up 2 percentage points in El Paso County.

Meanwhile, foreclosure starts are down from two years ago in two of the three most-populated Colorado counties. In Denver County, foreclosure starts are down 67 percent from August 2012 to August 2014. El Paso County saw a 54 percent decline in foreclosure starts, while Arapahoe County saw foreclosure starts rise by 3 percentage points.

Polls show a dead heat in Colorado
Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Udall has a strong opponent in Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in a solidly purple state that could go either way come Nov. 4. In this highly competitive contest Democratic incumbent Senator Udall was behind challenger Gardner by a 48 to 47 margin, according to an Oct. 1 Rasmussen Reports poll in a state which President Obama won in 2012.

Louisiana housing market favors Democratic incumbent
Of the 18 parishes in Louisiana with sufficient housing data to score, 12 were categorized as Better Off while six were categorized as Toss-Ups and none were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off parishes had a population of 2.1 million, representing 64 percent of the total population in parishes with data. The six Toss-Up parishes had a population of 1.1 million, representing 36 percent of the total population in counties with data.

Housing market data in two out of Louisiana’s three largest housing markets — East Baton Rouge Parish  and Orleans Parish — favors the incumbent while housing data is a toss-up in the third, Jefferson Parish.

Unemployment is down in all three major counties about 1 percentage point compared with two years ago. With regards to underwater borrowers, the data is mixed. In Jefferson Parish, 16 percent of borrowers are seriously underwater, while 15 percent are seriously underwater in East Baton Rouge Parish. However, in Orleans Parish only 4 percent of borrowers were seriously underwater.

Home prices are also mixed in Louisiana’s three largest housing markets. In East Baton Rouge Parish, home prices are up 14 percent compared with two years ago, while Jefferson Parish saw home values increase 7 percent. Orleans Parish, however, saw home prices plunge 23 percent from August 2012 to August 2014. The percentage of median income needed to purchase a median priced home is up 3 percentage points from two years ago in East Baton Rouge Parish and is up 2 percentage points in Jefferson Parish. The percentage of median income needed to purchase a median priced home is down 4 percent in Orleans Parish, making that market more affordable than it was two years ago.

Louisiana Democratic incumbent holding on to slight lead in the polls
Three-term Democrat Senator Mary L. Landrieu faces her most challenging race yet against, battling largely against two Republicans, including front-runner state Rep. Bill Cassidy and Rob Naness the Tea Party long-shot. Landrieu, the daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu (and whose brother Mitch is the current New Orleans mayor) has run an aggressive race as she tries to survive the Republican wave that has swept over the Southern states. But if Senator Landrieu doesn’t win a majority of the vote in the multi-party primary on Nov. 4 against her two challengers, she is likely to face Rep. Bill Cassidy in a Dec. 6 runoff.

A CNN/ORC International poll gives the third-term incumbent a 43 percent to 40 percent advantage over Cassidy among likely voters. If the Senate race in Louisiana goes to a runoff, however, this state could become the center of the Senate’s political universe in a David Duke v. Edwin Edwards slugfest.

Iowa housing market a toss-up
Of the seven counties in Iowa with sufficient housing data to score, one was categorized as Better Off while four were categorized as Toss-Ups and two were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off counties had a population of 93,776, representing nine percent of the total population in counties with data. The Toss-Up counties had a population of 641,024, representing 62 percent of the total population in counties with data. The Worse Off counties had a population of 304,747, representing 29 percent of the total population in counties with data.

In Iowa’s three largest county real estate markets — Polk County, Linn County and Scott County — the housing outlook is mixed. Unemployment rates are down less than one percentage point in all three counties, but underwater rates are below the national average. Median home sales prices are up compared with two years ago in Polk and Scott counties, but down slightly in Linn County. Meanwhile the slower home price appreciation does help out the affordability situation in Iowa, where the percentage of median income needed to buy a median-priced home is up less than 2 percentage points in both Polk and Linn counties.

Iowa Republican candidate takes the edge in the polls
With Democrat Senator Tom Harkin retiring, the race between state Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst is considered one of the most competitive in the country, and its outcome is considered critical to determining the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. They’re running to replace Senator Harkin, who’s retiring after 30 years in office. This race remains tight, and it goes without saying that this one could go either way right now. A Sept. 30 Des Moines Register poll shows GOP candidate Joni Ernst grabbing a 6-point lead over Democrat Bruce Braley, with GOP Ernst leading 44 percent to Democrat Braley’s 38 percent. If Joni Ernst wins, she will be the first woman to represent Iowa in the Senate.

Arkansas housing market favors Democratic incumbent
Of the nine counties in Arkansas with sufficient housing data to score, eight were categorized as Better Off while one was categorized as a Toss-Up and none were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off counties had a population of 1.2 million, representing 99 percent of the total population in counties with data. The sole Toss-Up county had a population of 15,674, representing less than 1 percent of the total population in counties with data.

Arkansas’ three largest counties –Pulaski, Benton, and Washington — all had a decrease of about 1 percentage point in unemployment rates compared with two years ago. In Washington County, 17 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are seriously underwater, while in Benton County 14 percent are seriously underwaqter and 12 percent of Pulaski County mortgage holders are seriously underwater. However, home prices are up in Washington County, rising 22 percent between August 2012 and August 2014. The percentage of median income needed to purchase a median priced home is up 5 percentage points from two years ago in Washington County. Arkansas foreclosure starts are down in all three counties compared with two years ago: 90 percent in Benton County, 78 percent in Washington County and 70 percent in Pulaski County.

Republican challenger ahead in the polls in Arkansas
Two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor of Arkansas is in the fight of his political life against freshman GOP challenger Tom Cotton. Democrats are making an unprecedented push on the ground to get out the vote in the Razorback State, but it might not be enough to overcome the unpopularity of a two-term Democratic president with a 31 percent approval rating. According to a September NBC News/Marist poll, Cotton was ahead of Pryor by a 45 to 40 margin.

Kansas housing market favors Republican incumbent
Of the 22 counties in Kansas with sufficient housing data to score, 21 were categorized as Better Off while one was categorized as a Toss-Up and none were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off counties had a population of 2.1 million, representing 97 percent of the total population in counties with data. The single Toss-Up county had a population of 71,927, representing 3 percent of the total population in counties with data.

In Kansas’ three largest real estate markets — Johnson County, Sedgwick County and Shawnee County unemployment is down compared with two years ago. Home prices are up in all three major Kansas housing markets, with Johnson County up 11 percent), Sedgwick County up 3 percent and Shawnee County up 18 percent.

The rise in home prices without a corresponding rise in incomes is worsening the affordability situation in the major Kansas counties. The percentage of median income needed to purchase a median priced home is up 3 percentage points from two years ago in Shawnee County and is up 2 percentage points in Johnson County, while Sedgwick County is up 1 percentage point.

Independent challenger surging ahead of Republican incumbent in Kansas
Republican Senator Pat Roberts is in the fight of his political life against independent Greg Orman. Kansas has been a reliably Republican state for decades. No Democrat has represented the state in Congress since before the United States entered World War II. But Senator Roberts is waging an uphill fight against businessman Orman after the state’s Democratic nominee Chad Taylor withdrew from the race, improving the odds for center-left independent Orman in this Midwestern matchup. A recent NBC News/Marist poll shows that Orman has opened a 10 point lead over Senator Roberts, with a 48 to 38 lead over the GOP incumbent. In Kansas, RealtyTrac predicts this race favors the incumbent.

Alaska housing market a toss-up
Of the three counties in Alaska with sufficient housing data to score, one was categorized as Better Off while two were categorized as a Toss-Up and none were categorized as Worse Off. The Better Off counties had a population of 89,319, representing 19 percent of the total population in counties with data. The Toss-Up counties had a population of 388,993, representing 81 percent of the total population in counties with data.

In Alaska’s most populated housing counties — Anchorage, Fairbanks North and Matanuska-Susitna –unemployment is down compared less than one percentage point compared with two years ago. In Anchorage County, only 2.6 percent of homes with a mortgage are seriously underwater, compared with 7.5 percent in Matanuska-Susitna County.  The percentage of median income needed to purchase a median priced home is up 3 percentage points from two years ago in Anchorage County and is up 0.4 percentage points in Fairbanks North Star County. However, foreclosure starts are up significantly in from two years ago in two of the three major Alaska housing markets — Anchorage and Fairbanks North Star — while foreclosure starts are down from two years ago in Matanuska-Susitna.

Alaska Republican challenger leads Democratic incumbent in polls
Incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Begich faces a steep challenge against Republican challenger Dan Sullivan, a former appointed state attorney general and commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources. But this is a very competitive race. In 2008, Senator Begich took down 40-year incumbent Ted Stevens, a Republican, in a red state during a presidential election. A Sept. 20 CBS/New York Time poll had Sullivan ahead of Begich by a 48 to 42 margin.

Report Methodology and Scoring
The report scored 1,547 U.S. county housing markets based on up to five factors impacting housing health: housing affordability compared to two years ago, unemployment rates compared to two years ago, foreclosure starts compared to two years ago, median home prices compared to two years ago, and the percentage seriously underwater homeowners. A county had to have at least three of the five factors to receive a score, and scores were weighted accordingly if only three or four of the five factors were available. Based on the final score, county housing markets were categorized as Better Off, Worse Off or a Toss-Up based on this score.

Unemployment data by county was obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics between July 2012 and July 2014. Underwater data was determined by RealtyTrac’s proprietary property level information. Properties that are considered to be seriously underwater are any properties with a loan-to-value of 125 or more.  Only counties that had loan information on 10 or more properties were considered. Median Home Price is the median sales price in disclosure states. In non-disclosure states the all sales median price was used instead. The non-disclosure states include Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Home price change is the percentage difference in median home prices from August 2012 to August 2014. Foreclosure starts are based upon the number of either new auction or default foreclosure records by county depending on what is the first public notice of foreclosure in the state. The two-year change in foreclosure starts was calculated using August 2012 and August 2014 foreclosure start numbers. The affordability percentage was calculated as the monthly house payment for a median priced home divided by median household income in August 2012 compared to August 2014. Annual median household income for 2014 was estimated based upon 2000 top 2012 Census numbers and then adjusted for current market conditions.

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