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The worsening employment and foreclosure situation has created an enormous “shadow inventory” of as many as 6 million homes that are not for sale right now but are likely to deluge the market as banks put them up for sale in coming months, analysts estimate.

Mr. Lee said it would take a year and a half to sell all those homes, on top of already plump inventories of more than 4 million existing homes for sale.

The huge overhang of bad debts and foreclosures will weigh on the housing market for a long time, he said.

“It could take years for the housing sector - especially the home-building industry - to recover to normal operating conditions,” he said.

Despite the great magnitude of the housing and debt crisis, which plunged the United States and global economy into the worst recession since World War II, many people continue to underestimate the extent of the damage or comprehend how long it will take for the markets to return to anything like normal, said Whitney Tilson, an executive at T2 Partners LLC and co-author of a book on the mortgage meltdown and housing crisis.

“The collapse of the U.S. housing market, the world’s largest debt market, is the defining economic event of our lifetimes,” he said. The large drop in housing prices after the bubble burst rivaled that of the Great Depression and has major consequences that are still playing out and will depress the market for some time, he said.

Mr. Tilson expects an additional 10 percent drop in home prices by next spring - which, coming on top of the more than 30 percent average decline already seen across the country, would bring prices in line with the historical trend for home prices in the United States.

But because so many homeowners greatly increased their mortgage debt during the boom years, such a further decline in prices would be enough to wipe out all the remaining equity of most American homeowners who have outstanding mortgages, he said.

That would leave most homeowners “under water.” People who are “under water” are unable to sell their homes or refinance them without help from the government or their lenders, and as a result are far more likely to go into default or walk away from their homes, analysts say. Thus, decisions made by this vast majority of homeowners have the potential to string out the housing crisis for some time to come.

That is why “recent signs of stabilization are likely the mother of all head fakes,” Mr. Tilson said, and are largely because of the temporary support the market is receiving from Congress and the Fed. He estimates that the nation is only about halfway though processing the tidal wave of defaults and foreclosures spawned by unemployment and the housing crisis.

That means the dire conditions that led to large-scale government intervention will continue for some time, he said.

“The key question is whether housing prices will go crashing through the trend line” and fall even more than 10 percent further, he said. “This is a real possibility, though continued massive government subsidies could prevent it.”