In a sign that the so-called shadow inventory of U.S. homes overhanging the real estate market might not be as great as feared, the rate of seriously delinquent mortgages is now at its lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2008. "The drop of the shadow inventory is a real positive for the housing market because it reduces concerns that this backlog will be with us," said Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research and economics at the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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