Interesting Information About Foreclosures

This is very interesting about foreclosures from John Mauldin. 

The Shadow Inventory of Homes

And foreclosures keep climbing, though some point to that fact that they seem to be leveling off. However, a strange thing is happening. We are seeing what is being called a “shadow inventory” of foreclosed homes.

“We believe there are in the neighborhood of 600,000 properties nationwide that banks have repossessed but not put on the market,” said Rick Sharga, vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles nationwide statistics on foreclosures. “California probably represents 80,000 of those homes. It could be disastrous if the banks suddenly flooded the market with those distressed properties. You’d have further depreciation and carnage.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

A Realty Trac survey found that only 30% of foreclosures were listed for sale in real estate listings like the MLS (Multiple Listing Service). Add in homes that people would like to sell but simply can’t find buyers for, and must either hold or rent, and the unsold inventory numbers that are public are likely far below actual available homes.

Might some homes in foreclosure be held off the market because banks eventually want to negotiate with the homeowner? Possibly, but other surveys show that anywhere from 30-40% of homes in the foreclosure process in many areas are actually already vacant. There is no one with whom to negotiate.

Typically a foreclosed home sells within a few weeks, as banks take the first “reasonable” offer. But it normally takes about three months from foreclosure to when the home is put on the market — it takes a few months to get a home ready. But surveys show it is taking a lot longer now, and many homes have not made it onto the market, even as more homes are being foreclosed each month.

The Chronicle suggests several factors may be at work. First, there is the “pig-in-the-python” problem. There are just so many homes that it is hard to get them onto the market and sold. Normally there are about 160,000 homes a year in foreclosure sales. We are now seeing 80,000 a month, or six times normal levels, and rising.

Second, lenders could be deferring sales to put off having to acknowledge the actual extent of their losses. “With banks in the stress they’re in, I don’t think they’re anxious to show losses in assets on their balance sheets,” one observer said.

Finally, banks may not want to flood the market with foreclosures, driving prices down even more. They are simply managing their assets so as to recover the most capital they can.

Given that the graph above says there will be more mortgage misery as large numbers of mortgages reset in the next two years, and given the unknowable nature of the losses, it is somewhat optimistic to think financial profits will rise by 74% in the fourth quarter. But it gets worse.