'Shadow' real estate inventory may take 4 years to clear

S&P: Slower liquidation rates to blame

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It may take more than four years to clear the "shadow inventory" of distressed homes lurking on the sidelines in the U.S., a factor that’s likely to undermine real estate prices as the backlog clears, analysts at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services say.

At 49 months, the estimated time needed to clear shadow inventory at the end of the fourth quarter of 2010 was up 11 percent from the previous quarter and 40 percent from a year ago. With the lone exception of Miami, the months’ supply of shadow inventory grew in almost all of the nation’s 20 largest metro markets.

But much of the increase in the estimated months needed to clear shadow inventory is due to the fact that it’s taking longer for lenders to liquidate distressed homes — not because the number of distressed properties is growing, analysts said.

Standard & Poor’s defines shadow inventory as properties with borrowers who are 90 days or more delinquent on their mortgage payments, properties currently or recently in foreclosure, or properties that are real estate owned (REOs).