Prices in the region have not declined as deeply as in many other areas of the country since the end of the housing boom in 2006-07. In the first quarter of 2012, according to Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert, median prices actually fell slightly in the region, although they have risen in some areas since.
The median existing-home price in May — the latest month for which data are available — was $215,000, which was 4.9 percent higher than May 2011 and 2.9 percent above the same month in 2010. Sales were 17.4 percent higher than May 2011, HomExpert showed.
In Pennsylvania, 9.4 percent of the 1.64 million mortgages were under water, while 18.9 percent of New Jersey's 1.8 million first-lien loans fell into that category.
Five states — Nevada, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan — combined have a negative equity share of 44.5 percent, while the remaining 45 states have a combined share of 15.9 percent.
"Rebounding home prices, a healthier balance of real estate supply and demand, and a slowing share of distressed sales activity helped reduce the negative equity share" in the first quarter, said CoreLogic chief economist Mark Fleming.
"This is a meaningful improvement that is driven by quickly improving outlooks in some of the hardest-hit markets," Fleming said, adding that although the overall stagnating economic recovery will likely slow housing-market recovery in the second half of this year, "reducing the number of underwater households is an important step toward reducing future mortgage-default risk."
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.