Roughly 27% of underwater borrowers think it is acceptable to walk away from their mortgage obligations – double the number of consumers who thought so a year ago, according to a new study from Fannie Mae.

The GSE’s findings were published in its first quarter National Housing Survey, which also found 46% of borrowers are "stressed" about their underwater mortgage, up from 11% in June 2010.

Economists believe this stress is likely the result of falling home values, which have exacerbated how far under water some consumers have become. CoreLogic reported on Tuesday that house prices have fallen for eight consecutive months ending in March (see related section below).

Fannie's own home price index shows that prices fell 3.7% in 2010 and 1.8% in the first quarter of this year. Stagnant incomes and rising household expenses also may be a factor in stress levels.

The Fannie survey shows only 20% of the general population experienced a significant increase in income over the past year. Nearly 60% said their income remained about the same over the past year.

Among delinquent borrowers, 47% said their incomes have declined significantly from 12 months ago and 47% reported higher household expenses.

As of March 31, Fannie had issued guarantees on $202.7 billion of underwater single-family mortgages. These loans have mark-to-market loan-to-value ratios greater than 125%.   

Freddie Mac has $236 billion of underwater mortgages with current LTV ratios greater than 110%.

CoreLogic Data

U.S. home prices fell 1.5% in March after declining 2.1% in February, according to the newly released CoreLogic house price index, which includes foreclosure and short sales.

The analytics firm noted that home values declined for the eighth consecutive month – even though interest rates have remained at or near their historic lows.  

Overall, prices are down 7.5% since March of 2010, mainly due to the large number of seriously delinquent loans and foreclosed properties hanging over the market.

Distressed transactions accounted for 39% of first quarter sales, according to the National Association of Realtors with many investors buying with cash as opposed to using a mortgage.

Excluding REO and short sales, the CoreLogic HPI is down only 1% since March 2010.

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