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A Primer on Real Estate’s Shadow Inventory

April 3, 2013

By Sarah Parr

The real estate industry and the consumer economy have some recent, positive news. CoreLogic published a report last week indicating that the shadow inventory of homes is down 28 percent from when it peaked in 2010. CoreLogic determined the shadow inventory figure by calculating the number of very delinquent homes, properties in foreclosure and homes held as REOs (real estate-owned) by mortgage servicers, but are not yet listed on multiple listing services (MLS).

As of January 2013, the shadow inventory includes 2.2 million housing units, or in real estate terms, nine months of supply. Florida currently has 16 percent of the total shadow inventory in the United States.

Defining the shadow inventory

In real estate, the shadow inventory refers to all of the homes held by banks, but not offered for sale, and homes that people are waiting to put on the market when prices increase even more. Vacant houses in some stage of foreclosure, known as “zombie foreclosures,” also comprise about half or more of the shadow inventory. Many homeowners anticipate foreclosure and move out of the house, leaving it vacant for a period of time.

What creates the shadow inventory?

The finalization of the National Mortgage Settlement in April 2012 caused the shadow industry to grow because of a 59 percent spike in properties in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTRAC. Because of the settlement, banks have been required to work with homeowners on loan modifications, and their homes are kept off the market. The states in which the shadow inventory grew are mostly judicial process states since these states are more prone to having court backlogs of foreclosure cases. Foreclosure cases in these states typically take much longer to process.

The effects on real estate

Real estate professionals> initially feared properties in the shadow inventory would be listed all at once and depress surrounding property values. Reuters reported that properties in the shadow inventory have been listed in miniature spurts, though, and the small inventory has actually caused an increase in prices in some areas. Investors have also helped mitigate potential flooding of the market by buying up some of the shadow inventory, according to a TIME article. These investors are a part of firms that buy out distressed real estate when it first hits the market. They often beat individual buyers with cash offers, sometimes before properties are listed.

All the same, a shadow inventory can create ambiguity for homeowners looking to sell their homes and for predicting when a local market can expect full recovery in the housing market. The shadow inventory can also affect overall housing inventory data.

Sarah Parr is a Central Florida-based writer who blogs about foreclosure issues for Altamonte Springs foreclosure lawyers.

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