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Nagging shadow inventory keeps Florida housing rebound out of reach

A bottom to the Florida housing market is more than one year out, possibly longer.

Nationally, the outlook is brighter as the shadow inventory of foreclosed homes and delinquent mortgages continues to dwindle. Home sales picked up from last year. Modifications and short sales are chewing through some of the delinquent loans.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM) analysts put the estimate of the shadow inventory at around 4.5 million properties as of March. Morgan Stanley (MS) researchers pegged it a bit higher at around 5.6 million, down more than 35% from the peak.

John Sim, a Chase securities analyst, told investors during a conference call Tuesday that the national market may have already bottomed. But the disparity is troubling for a market that has always been locally focused.

“We are still calling for parts of Florida bottoming by the end of 2013. There’s quite a bit of disparity,” Sim said.

Indices from Lender Processing Services (LPS) and Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller reports show slight increases in Florida from last year.

But J.T. Smith, chief investment officer of the boutique firm Aristar Funding Group in Florida, said the fundamentals are still off. The indices he said are not capturing a true and accurate picture of the estimated 4 million foreclosed homes being held off the market. At a clip of 500,000 REOs sold per year, he estimates a national housing bottom in the second half of 2014 and for Florida to lag roughly 12 months after that.

The Federal Housing Administration delinquencies are going back up, and he pointed out the 11.4 million homeowners estimated to owe more on their loan than their home is worth is barely budging.

“If pricing was bottoming we would see this number begin to move and it hasn’t, the only movement has been through modifications, short sales, and foreclosures,” Smith said.

With the attorneys general settlement and expanded government programs, including quicker short sales from the government-sponsored enterprises, Sim said these new loss mitigation tools could trim as much as 2.5 million properties from the shadow inventory over the next 12 months (click the graph below to expand).

That would be “quite a dent,” he said, but overall housing demand outside of all-cash investors chasing market troughs around the country is still in question.

“All you really need is for demand to go down again to wipe out the progress. Some of this needs to play out. If (the shadow inventory) picks up a little bit, hopefully demand will go up as well,” Sim said.

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