Fewer U.S. borrowers have underwater mortgages

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Fewer borrowers nationwide and locally owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, providing a boost to the housing recovery, according to a new report by CoreLogic, a property research firm.

In Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., 17.7 percent, or 84,694, of all residential properties with a mortgage were in negative equity as of the fourth quarter of 2012 compared to 18.2 percent, or 86,831 properties, in the third quarter of 2012. An additional 5.7 percent, or 27,035 residential properties, were in near negative equity for the fourth quarter of 2012 compared to 5.6 percent, or 26,736, a year earlier, according to the research firm.

Nationally, roughly 200,000 borrowers escaped "negative equity" positions during the final three months of last year, real estate data provider CoreLogic said.

Overall, the nation's negative equity fell from $670 billion in the third quarter to $628 billion at the end of last year.

A shortage of houses on the market has pushed up home prices in many markets. But the supply could increase, cooling price increases, if more homeowners escape negative equity positions and regain the option of selling.

Nationwide, 10.4 million homes, or 21.5 percent of all homes with a mortgage, remain in negative equity.