Tri-Cities a solid equity-rich properties market, even with Sullivan’s issue

Remember the TV commercial with the mechanical bunny beating a drum to sell batteries? It just keeps marching while beating that drum, never tiring and apparently outlasting bunnies with lesser batteries.

The share of equity rich Northeast Tennessee homes is the same way. But there are some numbers that make you ask, “what the heck” in the ATTOM Data Solutions’ Q3 Home Equity and Underwater Report.

For instance, what’s going on in Sullivan County? It traditionally has the highest share of equity-rich homes in the region and Q3 was no exception. But the number of equity rich households was 1,776 fewer than it was Q3 last year.

There’re several real estate and demographic factors at play that account for that, but the biggest factor is the number of households decreased by about 1,700. Blame that on a high death rate and a rapidly aging population. Still, even with that decline, there were enough owners who passed over the equity rich threshold to make the current share 0.6% higher than last year.

ATTOM defines equity rich as a mortgage with a loan to value ratio of 50% or lower. And there’s almost 26,000 of them in the seven-county Tri-Cities region. That number takes on more significance when you remember that almost half of the homes here don’t have a mortgage. The biggest exception is the county with one of the hottest housing markets – Washington Co. TN. But its share of equity-rich properties is tied with the national share at 23% and better than the Tennessee 21% share.

Equity rich was trending higher in the nation and across the Tri-Cities region in the third quarter. What that says about the regional housing market is it’s healthy. It also means there’s a lot of disposable income and homeowners with stronger than average equity positions.

Markets in Bristol, VA and Washington Co. VA dropped below the national 23% share of equity-rich properties in Q3 and consistent underperform the rest of the region. Bristol has an 18% share in Q3 while Washington Co. came in at 20%. It was a one-point improvement from Q2 for both.

The other side of the equity picture is seriously underwater properties. That’s defined as a property with a loan to value ratio of 125% or more. It means the homeowner owes at least 25% more than the estimated value of the property. They’re between a rock and a hard space until they build equity or default. During Q3 almost 8,000 Tri-Cities properties were in that position.  The net effect of local seriously underwater share is also beginning to show up in the ATTOM foreclosure report. During Q3 and October more than 800 properties had been repossessed or were in the pre-foreclosure process.

Across the nation, the share of seriously underwater properties was 10.8% –  10 points lower than what it was during Q3 2012.

All of the NE Tenn. and SW VA markets saw a similar one-month dip, with the exception of Washington Co. TN. The 9% share of properties that has been on a 9% plateau since Q1.

Compared to the national share only three counties were below the 10.8% benchmark – Hawkins, Unicoi and Washington Co. TN. The SW VA markets had the highest share of seriously underwater properties – 17% in Bristol and 21% in Washington Co.

Here’s the data breakout for both equity rich and seriously underwater properties with the share, the number of properties and the share compared to Q3 last year.


Carter – 27%, 2039, up 0.6%.

Greene – 29%, 3,965, up 3.9%.

Hawkins – 27%, 2,940, up 2.4%.

Johnson – 32%, 568, up 2.9%.

Sullivan – 33%, 8,292, up 0.6%.

Unicoi – 29%, 939, up 4.2%.

Washington TN – 23%, 6,970, up 1.9%.

Bristol VA – 18% – 309, up 0.4%.

Washington VA – 20%, 9,944, up 2%.


Carter – 10%, 775, down 2.3%

Greene – 11%, 1,445, down 4.6%

Hawkins – 9%, 968, down 1.6%.

Johnson – 12%, 213, down 1.9%.

Sullivan – 6%, 1,531, down 1%

Unicoi – 7%, 225, down 3.1%.

Washington – 9%, 2,623, down 0.3%.

Bristol VA – 17%, 301, down 0.1%.

Washington – 21%, 1,006, down 1.3%.