Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Repeat home buyers fuel housing recovery

(MoneyWatch) Across most of the country, home prices remain affordable and rents continue to rise. And while today's investors are helping the housing recovery, they're not completely responsible. Data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) suggests that traditional repeat buyers are driving today's market.

"Though housing markets are changing across the nation, investors are still seeing great opportunities. Hundreds of thousands of foreclosures and short sales are coming to market and rents are continuing to improve in most markets, creating a positive environment for the nation's 2.81 million residential real estate investors," Joshua Dorkin, founder and CEO of BiggerPockets.com, said in a press release.

According to the survey, one out of eight -- or 28.1 million Americans -- either consider themselves to be residential real estate investors or own residential investment properties today, according to the survey. That high number is not surprising when you consider many homeowners are renting out properties they'd rather sell.

NAR data shows investors accounted for an average 22 percent of the market share from 2003 to 2011.

There are perks to investors taking an active interest in today's real estate market. With millions of Americans actively investing in real estate, billions of dollars are being poured into repairs. The results of the survey reveal that real estate investors are spending more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to rehabilitate neighborhoods.

At a median expenditure of $7,500 per property owned, investors are spending a total of $9.2 billion per year to repair the damage caused by foreclosures. By comparison, Congress has authorized a total of about $7 billion for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program over the past four years.

Investor activity has benefited the housing market, but there's a downside too. "Investors have been largely purchasing with all-cash, which puts first-time buyers at a significant disadvantage," Walter Molony, a NAR spokesman, said in an e-mail. "Both investors and entry-level buyers have been focused on low price ranges, with investors winning the deals since they don't have a need for financing."

So while the BiggerPockets.com/Memphis Invest survey shows investors planning to continue purchasing and rehabbing property, NAR data shows the overall investor market share is on the decline. The drop started in March, and since April investor market share has averaged 18 percent -- below its long-time average of 22 percent.

Investors certainly help fuel the housing recovery, but NAR data shows they aren't the driving force. "First-time homebuyers are also below their long-term average with housing shortages in the low price ranges and a headwind of tight credit," notes Molony. "At present, the market is being driven by an increase in traditional repeat buyers."

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