NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's taken five years, but the number of so-called "underwater" homes, where the amount owed on the property exceeds the value of the home, is starting to trend in the right direction for homeowners. Right now, the number of homes considered to be deeply underwater -- owners owe at least 25% more on their mortgages than the property is worth -- stands at 10.7 million. But another 8.3 million homes are considered by real estate industry analysts to be close enough to value liquidity to be above water by Jan. 1, 2015. That's about 18% of all U.S. homes with a mortgage as of Sept. 1. Those figures come from RealtyTrac, the Irvine, Calif. real estate analytics firm, via its U.S. Home Equity & Underwater Report. real estate market. Why? Because as more homes increase in value and rise up from underwater status, more properties will likely wind up for sale, creating more opportunities for homebuyers. It also means fewer short sales and foreclosures for distressed homeowners. "Inventory of homes for sale is low across the country, but rapidly rising home prices in some markets over the past year has left many homeowners flush with equity and primed to sell," says Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac. "Rising home prices also means more distressed homeowners now have positive equity and may be able to avoid foreclosure without resorting to a short sale."
The trend toward fewer underwater properties is a clear and compelling sign that the U.S. residential real estate market is approaching full recovery mode. As Blomquist says, it's not exactly a speedy process, but it's a healthy and growing one.