Money talks. Loudly.
And cash has increasingly been the language of homebuying in metro Atlanta as 53% of purchases last year were done in cash. That’s more than double the share of purchases in cash recorded two years earlier, according to Attom, a property data provider.
Deep-pocketed individuals make up the bulk of those cash buyers, but Wall Street makes up a big chunk, too.
Investment firms made up more than a third of all cash purchases, or one-in-five overall home purchases, in the Atlanta area last year. The proportion of investor purchases essentially tripled from 2020 to 2021 and dipping slightly last year, Attom data shows.
Among the metros tracked by Attom, Atlanta ranked highest for investor buying and ninth highest for cash. Georgia in general has been a cash-friendly market: Six of the top regions for cash-buyers are in Georgia.
In February, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published American Dream for Rent, an investigative series that found large investment firms have acquired tens of thousands of homes across the region and converted them to rentals. The AJC analysis found that Wall Street investors are pushing homeownership out of reach for many first-time buyers.
Investors have focused much of their buying in African American communities, pricing out families, many of whom wind up renting from these same firms and face deplorable conditions, exorbitant fees and frequent evictions.
The investor purchases, while a modest part of the overall market, are often concentrated in smaller areas where they have an outsized impact, the AJC investigation showed.
Overall, sales have cooled a bit since the spring of 2022. But home sales to cash buyers have made up a substantially larger proportion of sales in each of the past two years.
In general, buyers with all-cash offers have an advantage, partly because they can often out-bid competitors. But without needing approval of a lender, a cash buyer can often shrug off inspections and other conditions that might be speed bumps on the path to a purchase.
Nationally, more than one-third of purchases last year were in cash.
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Fueling the trend have been a number of factors: hedge fund and other institutions seeking dependable investments, the flow of wealth from retiring boomers to younger generations and the higher costs of borrowing money.
“It’s the rates that are encouraging people to use cash,” said Querteria Kinnebrew, broker and general manager at Village Premier Collection. “They just don’t want to deal with the higher mortgage loans.”
Individual cash buyers
Mortgage rates have more than doubled since mid-2021, inflated by a number of factors starting with the Federal Reserve’s campaign of hikes in short-term borrowing cost. And while mortgage rates did dip from a crest above 7% last fall, they edged up again last month.
Both regular homebuyers and investors are sensitive to rates.
“I saw the hedge fund guys backing away in the fall when mortgage rates went up,” said Torrence Ford, owner of Re/Max Premier. “Come January, a lot of them have been calling again.”
That could change again: Rates have edged up and now average nearly 7%, according to Bankrate.
Overall, most all-cash buyers are themselves individuals, said John Hunt, principal of MarketNsight, which tracks housing in the Southeast.
To buy with cash, people dip into retirement funds, repurpose profits from selling a business or stock or they take money from sale of their previous homes. And not every investor is a hedge fund.
“We think these are people who buy, renovate and sell it. That is not a bad thing, that’s a good thing,” said Hunt, speaking at the quarterly conference of the Georgia State Economic Forecasting Center.
For individuals, cash often comes from equity in a home they already own.
Back at the height of the housing bubble the average seller had been in his or her home less than a year, according to Attom. That meant many sellers had amassed virtually no equity in the property they were leaving, so they might walk away with relatively little cash.
But it didn’t much matter for buying their next home, because back then down-payments were often not required and loans were easy to come by.
In contrast, during the last quarter of 2022, the average metro Atlanta home seller had lived in the home 4.2 years. During those four-plus years, the median value of a home has surged by about 30%, according to Realtor.com.
That helps set up younger, wannabe buyers to become beneficiaries of a generational wealth transfer.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Owners who’ve been in their homes a decade have seen metro Atlanta median prices more than double. So older owners can tap into a healthy chunk of cash — either through selling or by taking a loan using their equity as collateral.
That lets boomer parents, who may have savings and stock portfolios — as well as home equity — bankroll young adults who don’t have the savings for down payments or the credit score to justify a loan.
“I just had a mom buy a townhome for her daughter,” Kinnebrew said. “It was $265,000. She paid cash.”
Because the Sunbelt is the destination for many people selling homes in costlier regions of the company, a lot of cash buying involves relocation.
In February, the AJC published American Dream For Rent, a multi-part investigation of large investment firm purchases of single-family houses, finding such firms have acquired more than 65,000 metro Atlanta houses and converted them into rentals. The AJC analysis found that Wall Street investors paying cash are pushing homeownership out of reach for many first-time buyers. Deep-pocketed investors have focused much of their buying in African American communities, pricing out families, many of whom wind up renting from these same firms and face deplorable conditions, exorbitant fees and frequent evictions.
“People are still moving here,” said Ford, the Re/Max Premier owner. “Seems like every Uber I get into, the driver has just moved to Atlanta.”
That shift helps fuel the Atlanta luxury market, according to Redfin, the national brokerage.
Atlanta was among the nation’s leaders last year in listings for luxury homes and one of the few metros where the price of luxury homes rose.
But much of the cash-buying is because of a homegrown flow of money from older homeowners to younger and poorer wannabes.
A woman recently referred to him is searching for a house, Ford said. “Her grandmother died and left her money. Then another member of the family gifted her $150,000.”
The woman is ready to pay cash for a home up to $600,000.
American Dream for Rent: An AJC Investigation
Large investment firms are pushing homeownership out of reach for many first-time buyers, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found. Single-family houses have been snatched up in the thousands by private equity firms and publicly traded companies, converted into rental properties and bundled into complex investment vehicles.
READ THE SERIES
American Dream For Rent: Investors elbow out individual home buyers. Metro Atlanta is ground zero for corporate purchases, locking families into renting.
Investors zero in on Black neighborhoods. Buy-to-rent push puts home ownership further out of reach in metro Atlanta.
Why corporate purchases took off. Crisis opened door to corporate buying spree
Investors slam tenants with fees, evictions: Private equity makes big push into metro Atlanta’s single-family homes
Investor homes spark neighborhood tensions: Suburban Atlanta home owners clash with firms buying, building single-home rentals
Capitol nixes oversight amid housing crunch: State legislature blames local government, not investors, for rising prices
Politically Georgia podcast: Inside the American Dream for Rent investigation
Feb. 28, 2023: Georgia lawmakers advance tenant rights bill
March 2, 2023: Georgia House panel OKs bill to limit local housing moratoriums
March 14, 2023: Cash buyers made up more than half of metro Atlanta home sales in 2022
Bill Torpy (Feb. 15, 2023): Big money helps create a dystopian class of permanent renters
Metro Atlanta home sales by the numbers
Metro Atlanta, share of sales in cash
Metro Atlanta, share of sales to investors
All-cash share, United States
Highest: Augusta, 72.1%
National average: 36.1%
Median list price of Atlanta home sale
Feb. 2023: $399,945
Feb. 2022: $391,495
Feb. 2021: $359,900
Feb. 2020: $320,000
Metros with highest share of buyers using all-cash
Flint, Michigan: 59.5%
Detroit, Michigan: 58.8%
Naples, Fla.: 58.2%
Youngstown, Ohio: 51.5%
Metros with highest share of investor purchases
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL: 14.2%
Dallas-Fort Worth: 13.2%
Sources: Attom, Redfin, Realtor.com
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