Is There Really A Shadow REO Inventory?

A response to the recent WSJ Blog: Are Banks Holding a Shadow Inventory of Homes?

We don’t believe it.  Shadow Inventory, yesBanks holding back, not likely.  Basic market research, and our own experience as an REO brokerage tell us otherwise.

Let’s start with the series of foreclosure moratoriums between October ’08 and April ‘09.  First, major lenders and GSE’s stopped filing notices of default, then the federal government mandated it.  REO processing basically came to a halt for 6 months.  Standing inventory that was previously stagnant started to sell off quickly.  Agents used to complain about REO inventory; now we started complaining and speculating about the lack of it.  Multiple offers, buyer competition, number of listings down, number of sales up.  The market shifted for a moment and we all started theorizing: were these signs of a market recovery, were the banks holding back, etc.?

In April the wheel started to turn again as mortgage companies resumed foreclosure activity (see WSJ: Banks Ramp Up Foreclosures), hence the spike in notices of default.  The notices of trustee’s sale won’t follow for another 3-6 months.  We can’t compare these data in real time; we need to account for lag.

REO is a long process, and requires momentum.  You can’t grind to a halt and expect to restart at full speed.  It will take time to get the inventory to market: 5- 9 months to the trustee’s sale (foreclosure), another 2 to 12 months before the occupants vacate and the bank can take possession, and another month to trash out, clean up, etc.  A current notice of default might not become an REO listing for 18 months or more.  Inventory that was in process during the moratorium season is only now coming to market, and slowly.

One of our most reliable forecasting indicators is the amount of BPO activity, which mostly escapes attention.  Lenders order BPO to get a first glimpse of a property value and evaluate market strategy.  When BPO activity increases, REO activity increases.  Not coincidentally, our BPO activity was slow during the moratoriums, but has increased dramatically in the last 45 days.  We believe that there is a lot of REO inventory in process, and it will make it to market in due time.

In Silicon Valley, the current foreclosure cycle has been waxing and waning for over 24 months.  Our client lenders have been continuously adjusting, however slowly, to better accommodate the overwhelming volume of defaults.  They are increasing staff and focusing their resources on cutting loses through more efficient default servicing, and more successful loan mods and short sales.  In our opinion and from our perspective, deliberately holding back inventory so as to manipulate values would be counter-productive to cutting loses.

Lenders make loans.  They need to make a lot of loans to recover some of their enormous losses.  You can’t make loans on Shadow Inventory.