The number of seriously underwater homeowners inched up slightly during the first quarter due to slow home price appreciation, according to housing data provider RealtyTrac.

At the end of the first quarter, just under 7.4 million residential properties were underwater — meaning the combined loan amount secured by the property is at least 25 percent higher than the property’s estimated market value — for an increase of 0.4 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2014, RealtyTrac said in its most recent U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report.

That slight bump is the first quarterly increase seen since the second quarter of 2012, but still down more than 4 percentage points from a year ago. Currently, the number of underwater mortgages represents 13.2 percent of all properties with a mortgage, RealtyTrac said.

“At the end of 2014 we saw the lowest share of seriously underwater properties since we began tracking such data, but in the first quarter that share bumped up slightly as home price appreciation continued to slow down in many markets,” said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac’s vice president.

Markets with the highest percentage of seriously underwater properties in the first quarter were Lakeland, Fla. (28.7 percent), Las Vegas (28.4 percent), Cleveland, Ohio (28.2 percent), Akron, Ohio (27.2 percent), Orlando (26.1 percent), Tampa, Fla. (25 percent), Chicago (24.7 percent), Palm Bay, Fla.(24.5 percent), and Jacksonville, Fla. (24.3 percent).

RealtyTrac also said that 35.1 percent of all properties in some stage of foreclosure were seriously underwater at the end of the first quarter, up 0.5 percentage points from the 34.6 percent seriously underwater in the fourth quarter of 2014, but still down from 45 percent seriously underwater in the first quarter of 2014.

Markets where the share of homes in some state of foreclosure were more than 50 percent underwater included Las Vegas (57.6 percent), Lakeland, Fla. (55.1 percent), Cleveland, Ohio (53.1 percent), Chicago (52.6 percent), Palm Bay, Fla. (52 percent), Tampa, Fla.(51 percent) and Jacksonville, Fla. (49.4 percent).

Blomquist noted that “most of the seriously underwater homeowners are still stuck in their homes as short sales and other foreclosure alternatives lose momentum, tilting the national home equity scales back slightly toward a higher share of negative equity.”

RealtyTrac’s data on property characteristics, tax assessor data, sales and mortgage deed records, defaults, foreclosures, auctions and automated valuation models (AVMs) is relied upon by real estate professionals and service providers, marketers, financial institutions, consumers and government entities including the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department and the Department Housing and Urban Development.

Email Amy Swinderman.

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