Pleasanton Weekly

Real Estate - April 1, 2011

Home sales hit highest percentage of absentee, cash buyers in 20 years

Investors purchased 23.4percent of all Bay Area homes in February

Bay Area home sales this February hit its highest percentage of absentee and cash buyers in more than 20 years, a real estate information service reported.

With many would-be buyers afraid to step up to the plate, more absentee and cash buyers entered the playing field and purchased about 54 percent of all Bay Area homes combined last month, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

These absentee buyers, mainly investors, purchased 23.4 percent of all Bay Area homes in February, the highest for any month since absentee figures were first recorded in January 2000, DataQuick reported.

This is a slight increase from 22.8 percent in January, but the figure is almost 10 percentage points greater than the monthly average of absentee buyers, DataQuick reported.

Buyers who paid all cash, meaning no corresponding purchase loan was found in public record, accounted for 30.9 percent of sales in February, the service reported.

This is a gain in cash sales from January's 28.7 percent, and a noticeable increase from the monthly average of 11.6 percent, according to DataQuick.

Overall, February's Bay Area home sales were sluggish, with just under 5,000 new and resale houses and condos sold, according to the service.

This is a gain of 0.5 percent from January, but a 0.9 percent decrease from February 2010, DataQuick reported.

A record low of only 243 newly built homes accounted for the 5,000 Bay Area homes sold in February, DataQuick reported.

This figure is just slightly greater than the previous all-time low recorded in January, the service reported.

Low sales in newly built homes reflect the difficulties builders face when trying to compete with prices on resale homes, especially distressed properties, DataQuick reported.

Distressed sales accounted for just over half of the Bay Area's resale market in February, according to DataQuick.

These sales are the combination of sales of foreclosed homes and short sales, which are transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property, DataQuick reported.

"Sales over the past two months certainly underscore the market's reliance on investor and cash purchases at a time many potential buyers hesitated to act," DataQuick President John Walsh said in a news release.

Walsh said using the past two months alone to form predictions wouldn't cover all the bases, though.

"It's not clear that the January-February figures say much, if anything, about where the market is headed," Walsh said. "Historically, those two months have been weak indicators of what happens next."

Indicators of market distress continue to move in different directions, according to DataQuick.

Foreclosure activity remains high by historical standards but below peak levels reached over the past two years, DataQuick reported.

Financing with multiple mortgages is low and down payment sizes are stable, the service reported.

DataQuick monitors real-estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

Because of limited data availability, sales were estimated in Alameda and San Mateo counties. -- Rachel Purdy, Bay City News

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