Local News
4:08 pm
Fri January 11, 2013

Charlotte: A City Of Mortgage-Debtors

Only 20 percent of Charlotte homeowners have paid off their mortgages completely, compared to a national average of 29 percent.

More homeowners in Charlotte have mortgage debt than in most other major metro areas around the country.  Are we just prone to big spending, or is something else at play in the housing market here?  

Almost 21 million Americans – nearly a third of the nation's homeowners – own their homes outright.

In Charlotte, the percentage is much lower – just 20 percent.  New York City outdoes us with 30 percent of its homeowners free and clear. In Tampa it's 33.2 percent and Pittsburgh – a whopping 38 percent of homeowners have completely paid off the mortgage.

Real estate tracking firm Zillow tallied figures for the 30 largest metro areas. Charlotte's low number doesn't surprise local realtor Eric Locher.

"Given that we are a market where we have a number of people move in or move out as they move up the corporate chain or are looking for new opportunities, we're a bit younger market," says Locher, a past-president of the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association.

When he says young he means people who haven't lived here very long. Charlotte has been one of the nation's fastest growing cities, so of course a bunch of recent transplants won't have paid off their homes yet – the typical mortgage is 30 years. Now, the Zillow data also show that age does makes a difference too. People over 65 are more likely to have paid off their loans. Big surprise there.  

And that brings us to Pittsburgh – that nation's leader in mortgage-less homeowners – where the population skews older and actually shrank overall by 8 percent last decade.

"The same is true of Cleveland and St. Louis – they all have older populations and their populations are relatively stable, they don't tend to see a lot of population growth," says Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner, who's not worried by Charlotte's mortgage indebted-ness compared to those other cities.

But check back with us in 10 years: realtor Eric Locher says newcomers to Charlotte aren't as eager to buy since the housing crash. They seem to feel safer renting while they make sure the job lasts and they like the city well enough to make it their permanent home.