Foreclosure Math: Shadow Inventory Adds Up

It's the real key to the housing recovery.

If we know exactly how much shadow inventory of foreclosed properties will come to market, and we know the general demand, then we can get an idea of how much pain there is ahead in the still-fragile housing recovery.


The trouble is that the government doesn't report the number of homes held on bank's books or in private label securities, despite the fact that it counts just about everything else this country buys and sells.

The one, perhaps, positive outgrowth of government conservatorship of Fannie and Freddieis that now we can look far more deeply into their books with relative ease.

So we know that in Q2 Fannie Mae's REO inventory (real estate owned, i.e. repossessed) stood at 129,310, Freddie Mac's at 62,178 and FHA's at 44,850. Collectively 236,338 homes, which also happens to be an increase of 13 percent from Q1 and 74 percent from Q2 of 2009.

Now to the big banks.

They're harder to track because they report REOs in their quarterly earnings reports, but only as values of the properties, not actual numbers of properties. Thomas Lawler, an economist and housing consultant, estimates that by Q1 of this year banks owned $14.5 billion worth of REOs. If you assume a median price of $150,000 for each home, which I think is a bit high but he's assuming, then you get 97,000 properties.

Now to private label holdings.

Moody's estimates that private label repossessions stand at 203,665. So add it all up and you get close to 540,000 and then you add in other smaller banks and lenders that don't report anywhere we can find.

"My best guess right now is that REO held by Fannie, Freddie, and FHA, and other government entities, and banks and thrifts is just under 600-thousand, but unfortunately it is on the rise," says Lawler.

Now compare that 600,000 number to the 564,000 homes that the National Association of Realtors reported sold in June.

That's all homes, not just distressed homes.

So fewer homes sold than exist in REO.

But now, and I promise this is the last number, take a look at the number of distressed sales each month, about 150,000. That means that we have a four month supply just of foreclosed properties.

Yes, there are plenty of cash buyers out there, looking to scoop them up, but they will do so only at very reduced prices. So here we go again on price pressure.