The farther prices fall, the fewer homeowners may be able to qualify for President Barack Obama's mortgage relief plan. Last week, the president estimated up to 5 million borrowers in good standing who don't owe more than 105 percent of their home's current value would be able to refinance into a lower interest-rate loan.
Though details of the plan won't be released until March 4, more than 10 million homeowners are already under water, meaning they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Nationally, home prices have receded to 2003-levels, and half of the metro areas in the 20-city Case-Shiller Home Price Index have lost more than 20 percent of their values from their peaks in 2006, including Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami.
"If they don't get (the plan) into place very soon, it will be out of our reach to help these people," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com.
Americans are feeling grim about the prospects of any turnaround. Consumer confidence index sank to new lows in February as huge job cuts, shrinking retirement accounts and plunging home prices fueled fears, the Conference Board said Tuesday.