Supply of Foreclosed Homes on the Rise Again

The Wall Street Journal

23 March 2010

The supply of foreclosed homes that banks need to sell is rising again, signaling further downward pressure on home prices in some parts of the U.S.

Mortgage analysts at Barclays Capital in New York estimated that banks and mortgage investors held a total of 645,800 foreclosed homes in January, up 4.6% from 617,286 a month earlier.

According to Barclays, the supply peaked at around 845,000 in November 2008 and then declined through 2009.

Even though the number of people behind on mortgage payments kept rising last year, the flow of homes into bank ownership slowed markedly because of time-consuming efforts to figure out which distressed borrowers could qualify for programs that attempt to avert foreclosures by reducing monthly payments. Meanwhile, brisk demand from investors and first-time home buyers helped banks unload many of the homes they held.

Now the supply is rising again because banks are determining that many homeowners don’t qualify for loan modifications and are completing more foreclosures. Home sales also have slowed in recent months.

Barclays projects that the supply of foreclosed homes will rise to about 733,000 in April, then begin to decline again gradually. Foreclosed properties now account for roughly a fifth of all homes listed for sale nationally.

The outlook for sales of foreclosed homes depends heavily on whether the economy continues to heal and manages to create enough jobs to boost demand for housing. It also depends on how many distressed borrowers can be rescued from foreclosure through loan modifications. Nearly eight million households, or 15% of those with mortgages, are behind on mortgage payments or in the foreclosure process. Foreclosures are heavily concentrated in a few states, notably Florida, Arizona, Nevada, California and Michigan.

Estimating the number of homes owned by banks and mortgage investors isn’t an exact science. Barclays uses foreclosure-related data from mortgage securities packaged by Wall Street and extrapolates from that to estimate the entire market.

John Burns, a real estate consultant in Irvine, Calif., projected that home prices as measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller national index will fall an additional 6% before leveling off later this year.

While he expected many lower-end homes to show price increases this year, he said that would be offset by steep declines on some luxury homes. He assumed mortgage rates would rise to about 6% by year end and job growth would resume in the second half.