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A vast "shadow inventory" of foreclosed homes that banks are holding off the market could wreak havoc with the already battered real estate sector, industry observers say.
Lenders nationwide are sitting on hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes that they have not resold or listed for sale,according to numerous data sources. And foreclosures, which banks unload at fire-sale prices, are a major factor driving home values down.
"We believe there are in the neighborhood of 600,000 properties nationwide that banks have repossessed but not put on the market," said Rick Sharga, vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles nationwide statistics on foreclosures. "California probably represents 80,000 of those homes. It could be disastrous if the banks suddenly flooded the market with those distressed properties. You'd have further depreciation and carnage."
In a recent study, RealtyTrac compared its database of bank-repossessed homes to MLS listings of for-sale homes in four states, including California. It found a significant disparity - only 30 percent of the foreclosures were listed for sale in the Multiple Listing Service. The remainder is known in the industry as "shadow inventory."
"There is a real danger that there is much more (foreclosure) inventory than we are measuring," said Celia Chen, director of housing economics at Moody's Economy.com in Pennsylvania. "Eventually those homes will have to be dealt with. If they're all put on the market, that will add more inventory to an already bloated market and drive down home prices even more."
In the Bay Area, a Chronicle analysis of data from San Diego's MDA DataQuick shows that more than one-third of foreclosures are in shadow territory - that is, they are not registering in county records as having been resold.
For the 26 months from January 2007 through February 2009, banks repossessed 51,602 homes and condos in the nine-county Bay Area, according to DataQuick. Yet in the same period, only 30,823 foreclosures were resold, leaving about 20,000 bank repos unaccounted for.
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