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By Rick Tobin

Why are you just searching for listed properties for sale when the number of distressed, vacant, and “shadow inventory” homes is almost 33 times larger than the national home listing inventory supply?

How is this possible with my 33 number claim? First, upwards of 16 million homes were listed as “vacant” or shadow inventory in the fourth quarter of 2022, as per the U.S. Census Bureau, National Association of Realtors (NAR), and other groups. A vacant home can be defined as a vacation home, unsold new home building inventory (near record levels of new single-family homes and multifamily apartment buildings being built in 2023), distressed or pre-foreclosure properties, or homes held by billion-dollar corporations like BlackRock, Blackstone, or State Street for the long-term that just sit there with no intent to rent it out at present.

Second, there are at least a few million distressed mortgages (FHA loans, especially) currently in forbearance agreements in order to delay the lender’s foreclosure filing actions to bring the total to more than 18.5 million properties. Frankly, I think that the number is closer to 20 million after counting VA, conforming, non-QM, and private money loans, but we’ll just focus on the 18.5 million vacant or distressed home number.

Since 1934, FHA (Federal Housing Administration) has insured more than 40 million loans nationwide. Today, a relatively high percentage of homebuyers still rely upon FHA to purchase their homes partly due to the much lower interest rates and easier loan qualification guidelines such as loan programs which allow FICO credit scores as low as 500, debt-to-income (DTI) ratios up to 50% or higher, and loan-to-value (LTV) options near 96.5% to 100% LTV.

As of March 2023, the national home listing inventory was listed at 562,565 by data provided by the Federal Reserve Economic Data and the NAR. Let’s do the math as follows:

18.5 million distressed or vacant homes / 562,565 listed homes = 32.885 times


Distressed FHA Loans & Continued Forbearance Extensions

There are three to four times as many delinquent FHA mortgage loans nationwide as compared to the entire national home listing inventory with somewhere near at least a few million distressed FHA loans.

February 8, 2023: Today, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge announced that, thanks to Federal Housing Administration (FHA) programs, approximately 2 million homeowners with FHA mortgages were able to stay in their homes from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 through December 2022 – when doing so was often a matter of life and death. During this period of time amid the pandemic, FHA borrowers whose ability to make their mortgage payments was impaired by the pandemic were able to obtain either a COVID-19 forbearance or a more permanent solution such as a loan modification that allowed them to avoid foreclosure.
Source: HUD Secretary Announces Major Milestone of Assisting Nearly 2 Million Homeowners Stay in their Homes

With a few million distressed FHA loans that they admit to and is probably undercounted, it’s no wonder why the federal government wants to keep offering FHA forbearance extensions.

Details of FHA’s COVID-19 Forbearance

Important information about FHA’s COVID-19 Forbearance:

To be eligible for the COVID-19 Forbearance or forbearance extension in the table above, you must request this relief from your servicer on or before May 31, 2023.

You can request a FHA COVID-19 Forbearance for up to 6 months. If needed, an additional 6 month extension may be requested. If you began your initial forbearance on or after October 1, 2021, you are only eligible for the additional 6 months if your initial 6 months forbearance will be exhausted and expires on or before May 31, 2023.

Additional forbearance options may be available to you after May 31, 2023. Your mortgage servicer may provide for a temporary pause or reduce your monthly mortgage payments to allow you time to overcome your financial hardship. An extended forbearance period may be provided to you if you are unemployed and actively seeking employment.

No extra fees, penalties, or interest will be added to your account during the forbearance period.

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

There are also a significant number of distressed VA and conforming or conventional loans nationwide which are held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in the secondary market that aren’t really being “officially” counted with the most up to date numbers. FHA and VA mortgage loans have both consistently represented close to 10% each of the annual national funded loan market. As a result, these government-backed or insured loans, which typically average close to 0% to 3.5% down payments for FHA, VA, and conforming, are something to keep a close eye on as the economy continues to soften.

The 40-Year Loan Modification Program for FHA Borrowers

Good news: National mortgage delinquency rates dropped 15% in March 2023 while reaching 2.92%, which was a new all-time record low.

Bad news: Millions of distressed mortgages are not being counted as “delinquent” once they enter forbearance agreements with their lender (FHA loans, especially). The national FHA loan default rate reached 12% in February and will likely continue to rapidly increase. Distressed FHA and VA loan investments are some of the best deals out there because they usually have the lowest mortgage rates that you can take over by way of creative seller-financing techniques.

A forbearance agreement is when the lender or mortgage loan servicing company agrees to postpone or delay their foreclosure actions with the delinquent borrower. Sometimes, these foreclosure postponements may last months or years.

On March 8, 2023, HUD issued their Mortgagee Letter 2023-06 with details described as the “Establishment of the 40-Year Loan Modification Loss Mitigation Option” with a stated purpose noted as “This Mortgagee Letter (ML) establishes the 40-year standalone Loan Modification into FHA COVID-19 Loss Mitigation policies.”

Several mainstream media analysts mistakenly described this new 40-year loan proposal offered by FHA as a purchase loan as well. Yet, this is not correct because it’s only for the refinance of currently distressed 30-year FHA loans into longer 40-year loan terms in order to reduce the monthly payments for borrowers. There is no published word about whether FHA will later consider offering 40-year purchase loans for borrower prospects.

Housing and Family Trends

Real estate is a people business, first and foremost. The #1 most important factor for housing trends is related to population trends and household formations for families especially. Without people, there’s no need for housing regardless of the affordable financing offered.

One of the main reasons why people purchase single-family homes is because they’re trying to either build a growing family or the need to house two or three generations of the family under the same roof. You can’t spell “single-family homes” without family in it.

The U.S. has the highest percentage of one-person households in the entire world. A few years ago, one-person households surpassed all other household formations in Canada.

In 2022, only 24% of U.S. households had at least one child under the age of 18. In 1965, upwards of 42% of households had a child under the age of 18.

The Decline of Family Households

Here are some of the published data numbers from sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Pew Research, and numerous other data sources in regard to individuals and family structure trends:

  • National overall divorce rate in the USA: 50%+.
  • The California divorce rate is 60%.
  • The Orange County, California divorce rate is 72%.
  • 41% of first marriages nationwide end in divorce.
  • 60% of second marriages end in divorce.
  • 73% of third marriages end in divorce.
  • The average length of a marriage in the U.S. that ends in divorce is 8 years.
  • There is one divorce every 36 seconds in the U.S. on average; 2,400 divorces per day; 16,800 divorces per week; and 800,000 to 900,000 divorces per year.
  • The percentage of American men between the ages of 20 and 39 who are now married has fallen by half (35% of men are married as of 2017) since the early 1970s (70% of men were married).
  • Unmarried parents who live together are more likely to break up than married parents, per the Brookings Institute.
  • Per the CDC in 2016 through at least 2020, U.S. fertility rates were the lowest ever recorded as fewer couples are having children these days. Each consecutive year over the past five or six years reached all-time record lows.
  • 78% of all households in the U.S. contained one married couple in 1950. Today, married households are below 48%.
  • In 2010, the Pew Research Center reported that 44% of Americans polled in the 18-to-29 year old age range believed that “marriage was becoming obsolete.”
  • Divorce rates for people over the age of 50 have doubled between 1990 and 2015, per Pew Research Center.
  • In 1956, roughly 5% of all babies were born to unwed mothers. Between 2008 and 2016, babies born to unwed mothers were closer to the 40% range.
  • Upwards of 50% of children in impoverished regions of the U.S. live in homes without fathers.
  • 46% of children live at home with a mother and father who were in their first marriage together.
  • The average American woman in 1970 had her first child at 21.4 years of age. Today, the woman is near 25.6 years of age.
  • The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world.
  • More than 50% of children are born to unmarried women under the age of 30.

Saving Equity or Creating Newfound Wealth

What are your options as either a homeowner with an ongoing forbearance agreement in place with your lender, a struggling business owner, a commercial property owner and landlord with incredibly high vacancy rates, or as an investor seeking new opportunities if and when the economy suddenly pivots and we enter a more clearly visible deeper recession? If home values are more likely to be higher today than later this year, is it now a good time to sell? If so, where will be your next destination for a home?

Generally, loss of income is the #1 reason why homeowners lose their homes to lenders or mortgage loan service companies in foreclosure. The #2 reason why homeowners walk away from their home is when the mortgage debt exceeds the current market value and it’s upside-down or underwater. This is when short sale options become more prevalent.


The real risk associated with homes purchased in recent years is related to the relatively low down payment averages for first-time buyers and others that were leveraged between 96.5% and 100% loan-to-value at the close of escrow. Effectively, these homebuyers were upside-down with negative equity at closing when factoring in the potential 6% to 8% closing costs to resell the homes after paying real estate brokerage commissions, title, escrow or attorney’s fees, transfer taxes, third-party inspection reports, and possible seller credits towards the buyer’s closing costs.

In 2022, first-time homebuyers represented 34% of all home purchases across the nation, as per the NAR. During the fourth quarter of 2022, purchase loans comprised 78.6% of all FHA mortgages funded. With a high percentage of FHA borrowers reported as first-time homebuyers, their average down payments were likely close to 3.5% or below. What happens if home values fall 5%, 10%, or more in value over the next year?

If you’re currently in a distressed mortgage situation as a homeowner or investor or are searching for discounted off-market listings as a buyer with very creative and flexible financing solutions, I can show you effective ways to save your equity or create newfound wealth with my mortgage and investment business named Realloans (Real Estate Loans and Creative Sales) and my real estate group linked here: So-Cal Real Estate Investors.

Rick Tobin

Rick Tobin has worked in the real estate, financial, investment, and writing fields for the past 30+ years. He’s held eight (8) different real estate, securities, and mortgage brokerage licenses to date and is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He provides creative residential and commercial mortgage solutions for clients across the nation. He’s also written college textbooks and real estate licensing courses in most states for the two largest real estate publishers in the nation; the oldest real estate school in California; and the first online real estate school in California. Please visit his website at for financing options and his new investment group at So-Cal Real Estate Investors for more details. 

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