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Higher prices give homeowners billions more in equity, but mood is soured by rising mortgage rates

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Higher prices give homeowners billions more in equity, but mood is soured by rising mortgage rates

Why the wet blanket on home sentiment? It’s twofold: A diminishing number of consumers expect the recent spike in mortgage rates to abate, and even fewer consumers say their household income is significantly higher today than it was a year ago, according to a monthly survey by Fannie Mae.

“Despite the post-election bump in general consumer attitudes, a rapid rise in mortgage rate expectations has tamped down home-purchase sentiment, at least in the near term. A spike in economic optimism in the immediate aftermath of an election is typical. Whether consumers will sustain this level of optimism into 2017 remains unclear,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae.

The spike in rates, ironically, is in part a reflection of consumer optimism. From stock market investors to small-business owners, the common thread is the expectation that the new administration of Donald Trump will be pro-growth, pro-business and pro-employment. That would mean stronger income growth and more job security, which in turn fuel positive housing sentiment. So far, however, that is not the case.

That may be due to the still sharp economic divide in the housing market. Home values are gaining at increasing speed, but the bulk of the gains are in the middle to high end of the housing market. As a result, negative equity (when a borrower owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth), which soared during the housing crash, is now highly concentrated at the bottom 20 percent of the market.

In fact, borrowers in lower-priced homes are nine times more likely to be underwater on their mortgages than those in the top 20 percent of the market, according to Black Knight Financial Services.