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Tidal wave of repossessions in 2010

Spanish banks and cajas (savings banks) may have to deal with a tidal wave of repossessions this year, with big implications for the property market, according to a recent article in the Spanish daily Publico.

To make matters worse, the auctions banks normally use to dispose of repossessions are struggling to attract buyers, as the credit crunch has hit even the opportunists who traditionally bought at auction.

Banks will have to cope with between 100,000 and 150,000 repossession coming to a head in 2010, claims the article. Many of these foreclosures started as far back as 2008, but have been delayed by overloaded courts unable to process the avalanche of repossession demands. From now on these foreclosures will be the “biggest problem of the banks” claims one real estate professional quoted in the article.

Spain’s General Judicial Council (CGPJ) forecasts 180,000 foreclosures this year, up from 114,958 last year. The problem is that the people who normally buy at auction, known locally as subasteros, have disappeared from the market. “The companies that used to come to auctions have stopped doing so due to a lack of credit,” a source at the courts in Madrid told the paper, where foreclosures rose 300% in 2009.

With few buyers at auction, banks will have to take back the properties onto their books at the ‘write-off price’ of 50% of valuation, which implies recognising a loss. That could have big implications for the banks and the property sector in general.

“No financial institution is ready for this new stock of property, neither in terms of provisions, nor in terms of management capacity,” one professional is quoted as saying.

The big question is what impact this new batch of repossession – the equivalent of 15% to 20% of the current inventory of property for sale – will have on the market. Unable to sell at auction, the banks might end up offering them for sale at their write-off values. The danger is that an avalanche of these properties dumped on the market at write off values will send the market into a spin, with prices falling another 20% to 30%. The danger, or perhaps the opportunity, depending on how you look at it.

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