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April 12, 2020, 5:11 p.m. EDT

These U.S. housing markets are most vulnerable to a coronavirus downturn

Having a high number of coronavirus cases doesn’t necessarily make a housing market more likely to be impacted by the disease outbreak

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By Jacob Passy


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New Jersey had 14 of the 50 most vulnerable counties in the country.

The U.S. housing market has shown early signs of trouble as a result of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But at the local level, some markets are expected to fare worse than others, according to a new report.

Real-estate date firm Attom Data Solutions released a report last week examining which counties across the country are most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact. Attom judged markets’ risk based on several factors, including the share of homes that had a foreclosure notice, the percentage of properties where the owner owed more on their mortgage that the home was worth and what share of local wages was needed to pay for housing expenses.

Overall, New Jersey had 14 of the 50 most vulnerable counties in the country, while Florida had 10 counties that had a high risk of a downturn fueled by the coronavirus pandemic. The counties in New Jersey were largely located in or near the New York City metropolitan area, which is the epicenter for the pandemic in the United States.

Here are the 25 counties that Attom assessed as most vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak from a housing perspective:

Overall Ranking County Percentage of income needed to buy a home Percentage of underwater properties Percentage of properties foreclosure filings
1 Sussex County, N.J. 39.9% 25.4% 0.31%
2 Warren County, N.J. 38.1% 28.1% 0.31%
3 Charles County, Md. 42.8% 23.1% 0.19%
4 McHenry County, Ill. 39.0% 23.6% 0.23%
5 Rockland County, N.Y. 66.2% 15.4% 0.16%
6 Atlantic County, N.J. 34.2% 34.8% 0.23%
7 Passaic County, N.J. 50.2% 19.3% 0.13%
8 Ocean County, N.J. 44.5% 16.8% 0.20%
9 Gloucester County, N.J. 33.5% 27.3% 0.31%
10 Flagler County, Fla. 46.5% 14.8% 0.17%
11 Monroe County, Pa. 31.2% 32.2% 0.21%
12 Orange  County, N.Y. 45.9% 14.0% 0.20%
13 Essex County, N.J. 43.0% 16.2% 0.17%
14 Sussex County, Del. 44.8% 18.4% 0.12%
15 Spotsylvania County, Va. 48.5% 17.9% 0.12%
16 Onslow County, N.C. 32.1% 24.2% 0.27%
17 Burlington County, N.J. 32.9% 22.4% 0.23%
18 Kane County, Ill. 38.0% 20.9% 0.15%
19 Camden County, N.J. 28.6% 25.7% 0.28%
20 Union County, N.J. 44.5% 14.2% 0.15%
21 Beaufort County, S.C. 54.1% 18.0% 0.09%
22 Stafford County, Va. 48.1% 16.3% 0.11%
23 Hunterdon County, N.J. 43.2% 15.0% 0.14%
24 Kent County, Del. 30.5% 21.3% 0.22%
25 Prince George's County, Md. 34.5% 17.5% 0.22%

Read more: These mortgage borrowers will be ‘the first canary in the coal mine’ for a coronavirus-fueled foreclosure crisis, regulator says

Also in the Top 50 were four counties in New York and three in Connecticut. While many of the housing markets most likely to be affected by the coronavirus were located in the Northeast and South, few were located in other parts of the country.

Shasta County was the only housing market in California that Attom assessed to be among the 50 most vulnerable. No other counties in California or the rest of the Western United States, including Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska, were in that list.

That’s in spite of the fact that cities like Seattle and Los Angeles have seen some of the largest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country. Notably none of the counties that make up New York City were ranked among the most vulnerable to a housing downturn.

Additionally, cities like Denver and Houston were among the 50 least vulnerable markets, based on Attom’s research.

“It’s too early to tell how much effect the coronavirus fallout will have on different housing markets around the country,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with Attom Data Solutions. “It looks like the Northeast is more at risk than other areas. As we head into the spring home buying season, the next few months will reveal how severe the impact will be.”

Also see: ‘Landlords are just trying to pay bills like everyone else.’ The coronavirus could hit mom-and-pop landlords hard as tenants miss rent payments

Jacob Passy is a personal-finance reporter for MarketWatch and is based in New York.

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