Housing

What Do Slow Foreclosures Mean For The Housing Market?

As we noted yesterday, even before the recent foreclosure scandal hit,  foreclosures have been taking a really long time.

What does that mean for the housing market? We asked Rick Sharga, an exec at RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosures.

Here's what he told us:

I guess the safest answer is, because you have such a high number of distressed properties, had we seen them all flood into the market at once, the housing market downturn would have been even worse than what we've all experienced.

On the other hand, he said, the long process means foreclosed houses will keep coming onto the market in large numbers over the next few years, which is likely to keep home prices low for a while.

"There are about 600,000 bank properties on the sideline," he said. "The banks own them but they're not marketing them yet."

Sharga thinks bank repossessions will peak next year, and it will take a few more years for the banks to re-sell all those foreclosed homes. "We see the most likely scenario being a return to a more stable, healthy housing market in 2014," he said.

This week's housing scorecard from the Obama administration shows that the number of initial foreclosure actions (the beginning of the process) and the number of repossessions (the end of the process) are converging.

"We're seeing an equilibrium that we've never seen before, at the outset and the conclusion of the foreclosure process," Sharga said.

But that may not last.

"I'm not sure we've hit an equilibrium," Brookings Institution senior fellow Ted Gayer said. He pointed out that if housing prices take another big fall, foreclosures could start rising again.

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