“Shadow inventory,” the number of homes that are either in foreclosure or are likely to end up in foreclosure, creates substantial but hidden pressure on housing prices and potential losses to banks and investors. This is a critical figure for policymakers and financial services industry executives, since if the number is manageable, that means waiting for the market to digest the overhang might not be such a terrible option. But if shadow inventory is large, housing prices have a good bit further to go before they hit bottom, which has dire consequences for communities, homeowners, and the broader economy.
Yet estimates of shadow inventory, and even the definition of what constitutes shadow inventory property, vary widely. For example, the Wall Street Journal published a Nov. 11, 2011 article, “How Many Homes Are In Trouble?” where values varied from 1.6 million (CoreLogic), to “about 3 million” (Barclays Capital), to 4 million (LPS Applied Analytic), to 4.3 million (Capital Economics), to LPS Applied Analytics, to between 8.2 million and 10.3 million (Laurie Goodman, Amherst Securities).
Why do these numbers vary so much? Even though CoreLogic is generally considered to have one of the best databases of loans, its estimates of loan performance and odds of default are based on credit scores, which is a badly lagging indicator. Laurie Goodman is seen by many as having the most carefully though out model, even though industry insiders are keen to attack her bearsish-looking forecast.
I have a large database of my own, and am familiar with housing and mortgage information sources. I’ve come up with my own tally of shadow inventory and have also tried to analyze — OK — take a stab at – what I call “shadow liability,” meaning the amount of money taxpayers, investors, banks, will be lose if those homes are liquidated. Assumptions using those terms are also in the attached spreadsheet. My analysis comes up with a total close to that of Goodman’s range, 9.8 million using a narrower definition than Goodman’s of what constitutes shadow inventory.
Put more simply, things are actually worse than any of the prevailing estimates indicates, although Goodman is very close to the mark. Current loss experience suggests that this figure is staggering, easily in the $1 trillion range.
Why aren’t those losses more visible yet? Well, evidence suggests that servicers are stalling the foreclosure process, not taking title to and selling these houses. For the lenders, such delay likely allows them avoid the write-offs of both the negative equity as well as the worthless second liens. More generally, it keeps the trillion dollar losses hidden. Lenders aren’t acknowledging their stall tactics, however. When people notice how slowly foreclosures are progressing from initial steps to resale, lenders point at their foreclosure fraud related dysfunction. Lenders conveniently don’t mention that such dysfunction was self-induced, instead blaming borrowers and courts.