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Soaking Up REO Inventory Like a Sponge

Mar 12, 2012

The perception continues to persist that bank-owned properties are saturating the housing market nationwide, making it difficult for banks to unload these properties and giving buyers the upper hand in submitting lowball offers. I overheard a conversation at lunch recently confirming this. A group of businessmen were talking about a real estate-owned (REO) property just listed for sale in Ladera Ranch, Calif., a large development in Orange County sold at the peak of the boom and now littered with foreclosures. One gentleman said he was surprised at the asking price per square foot of just $183, which he considered a bargain. But one of his lunch buddies chimed in and recommended that he should still come in with an offer well below the asking price—and move on to another property if that offer was rejected. But trends in REO inventory suggest this climate may be changing—at least in some local markets. In the Orange County market, for example, REO inventory decreased 12 percent from the beginning of 2011 to the end of November, according to RealtyTrac data. We estimate that REO inventory in Orange County now represents a 12.5-month supply—certainly on the high side but not the towering tsunami that some reports of shadow inventory conjure up. Dwindling REO inventory Nationwide, REO inventory shrunk 35 percent from January to November and now represents an estimated 12-month supply based on the sales pace of REOs. In some states the estimated supply of REO inventory is down to less than 10 months—states like Idaho, Arizona and Virginia (seven-month supply) and Missouri, Colorado and Nevada (eight-month supply). This dwindling supply of REO inventory in many areas is the result of delays in the foreclosure process slowing down the pace at which lenders foreclose. The average time it takes to foreclose nationwide has increased by 19 percent over the past year, from 281 days in the third quarter of 2010 to 336 days in the third quarter of 2011, according to RealtyTrac data. The average time it takes to foreclose nationally is up more than twofold from the third quarter of 2007, when it was 140 days. These delays were caused by a firestorm of controversy surrounding the propriety and legality of the foreclosure process itself, in some cases calling into question whether an REO property can be sold to a third party or obtain clear title. One recent example of this was a Sept. 29 bankruptcy court ruling in Arkansas that found some lenders are not properly authorized to do business in the state and therefore are in violation of the state’s non-judicial foreclosure statutes. As a result of the ruling, now under appeal, some title companies in the state no longer issue title insurance for foreclosed properties. But despite some extreme examples like the Arkansas case, lenders appear to be ramping up foreclosure activity in select areas and for select portions of their distressed portfolios that will presumably stand up to increased scrutiny. Evidence of this ramp up is a recent surge in the earlier foreclosure filings that start the foreclosure process. These default filings spiked 33 percent back in August and have remained elevated since then, RealtyTrac data show. Scheduled foreclosure auctions, the second stage of the foreclosure process in most states, reached a nine-month high in November, indicating this wave of delayed foreclosures is gradually making its way through the foreclosure process. Many of these delayed foreclosures will eventually become REOs, meaning an increase in REO inventory. But that won’t necessarily be a terrible thing for many markets that are primed to quickly absorb additional REO inventory—particularly if that inventory is in reasonably good condition. In contrast, some other local markets are in still saddled with a large inventory of REOs. In these REO saturated markets, lenders and servicers should think twice before adding more bank-owned properties to the backlog. Instead they may need to more seriously consider foreclosure alternatives such as loan modification, short sale or even donating property to local land banks. Top REO absorbent markets All of these markets had REO inventory representing less than eight months as of the end of November and at least 400 REO sales in the second quarter of 2011, according to the RealtyTrac U.S. Foreclosure Sales Report. The Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro area topped the list, with 1,250 REO properties representing a 3.07-month supply. Boise was second on the list, with 812 REO properties representing a 3.66-month supply. Even though the Phoenix metro area posted a massive REO inventory of 27,307 properties as of the end of November, the blazing pace of REO sales in the city is helping to keep its estimated monthly supply of REO inventory at 6.28 months—enough to be third place on our list of REO absorbent markets. Other top REO absorbent markets were Modesto, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif.; Richmond, Va.; Lakeland, Fla.; Stockton, Calif.; Denver and Akron, Ohio. Top REO saturated markets All of these markets had an active REO inventory of more than 4,000 properties as of the end of November, representing at least a 15-month supply. The Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metro area led the pack with 5,678 active REOs representing a whopping 133-month supply because of an anemic REO sales pace. Some landmark rulings by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2011 have largely frozen up sales of foreclosed property in the state. Most recently, the court ruled in October that the purchaser of a property in a flawed foreclosure sale is not the true owner of that property. This October ruling, in the case of Bevilacqua vs. Rodriguez, built on the court’s January decision in the case of US Bank vs. Ibanez, which said that a bank cannot foreclose on a property when the bank does not sufficiently prove that it owns the mortgage. Second place on the REO saturated list was the Birmingham, Ala., metro area, with total REO inventory of 5,417 representing a nearly 100-month supply. The most populous county in the metro area, Jefferson County, filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in November. With an REO inventory of 4,698 representing a 24-month supply, the Salt Lake City metro area is number three on our list of REO saturated markets. Kandy Clayton, broker/owner at Clayton & Associates Real Estate in Sandy, Utah, and member of the RealtyTrac Agent Network, noticed an increase in the number of HUD REO properties in the region starting as early as November 2010. “Listing brokers for HUD started receiving properties in November (2010). With that came a huge influx of properties on the market.” said Clayton, a HUD listing broker who noted that many of those properties were in poor condition and in need of significant repairs. “I never thought I’d sell a $50,000 house again but I did this year.” Clayton said that investors have been willing to snatch up many of those highly distressed HUD properties, but that a large shadow inventory of REO remains unlisted. “I’m seeing a ton of trustee’s sales going on, also a lot of REOs out there that are not on the market yet,” said Clayton. Other top REO saturated markets were Milwaukee; Cincinnati; Orlando; Detroit; Philadelphia; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Options in REO saturated markets A closer look at the REO saturated market of Detroit may provide some insight on how lenders and servicers might most effectively manage and sell REO inventory in similar markets. With 33,309 unsold bank-owned homes in the six-county region—down 36 percent from the peak of 52,341 unsold REOs in December 2008—Detroit has an estimated 16-month supply of REO inventory, according to RealtyTrac data. Much of that inventory is highly distressed and unattractive to most buyers, according to Anne Piekarz, broker/owner at MI Realty Group in Sterling Heights, Mich., and a member of the RealtyTrac Agent Network. “We list for Fannie Mae, and we have some properties in Detroit,” she said. “Horrible, horrible, horrible. … You can’t go down there by yourself. You have to go in the morning and you have to go with a partner.” But in the suburbs surrounding the city of Detroit, well-priced REO inventory in good condition is hard to come by, according to Piekarz and other local real estate agents. “There is a vast majority of buyers who cannot find homes for sale for a good price in good condition,” said Oakland County real estate broker Ian Whitelaw, who added he thinks there is a “backlog of buyers” for these types of properties. Lenders and servicers could effectively approach markets like Detroit with a two-pronged strategy. Highly distressed inventory in the foreclosure pipeline could be donated to a local land bank, if one exists, since little demand exists for this inventory. On the other hand, REO properties in decent condition and in desirable neighborhoods could be pushed more quickly to market as these are likely to be snatched up quickly if priced correctly. Daren Blomquist is director of marketing communications for RealtyTrac Inc. With RealtyTrac since 2001, Daren currently manages the company’s public relations, marketing and advertising efforts. His duties include the creation of the company’s monthly and quarterly foreclosure reports, which are cited by thousands of media outlets nationwide, including all the major news networks and leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA TODAY. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].
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