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The Housing Scene: Cash buyers slam Latino market

Hispanics recovered quickly from the housing downturn, according to a new report on the state of Latino home ownership in the United States.

But the study also found that the demographic hit a wall last year, blindsided by investors who gobbled up houses for cash – easily outbidding buyers who required financing – and by more stringent lending rules.

Absent those two barriers, the growth of Hispanic ownership “would likely have been much stronger” in 2013, concludes the annual report from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP).

Between 2000 and 2013, the Latino population accounted for nearly half of the increase in homeowners, with Latinos achieving an ownership rate of 46.1 percent, according to the study. Since 2010, though, Hispanics accounted for an even larger 56 percent of the country’s total net ownership growth, making it a “crucial driver” of demand during the housing recovery.

Latinos also experienced a strong rebound in the value of their homes, the study found, rising 25.3 percent from the bottom of the housing recession in 2011.

But the gains came to a screeching halt last year.

The Hispanic ownership rate recorded only a “modest net increase” of 84,000 households, far less than the increases recorded in the previous two years – 127,000 in 2011 and 348,000 in 2012.

The main reason: “far and away” a lack of inventory suitable for first-time Latino buyers, according to NAHREP co-founder and CEO Gary Acosta.

In a nationwide survey of NAHREP members, nearly half – 42 percent – said inventory shortages due to competition from cash investors was the “primary barrier” to Hispanic ownership last year.

More than 78 percent said they had at least one qualified client who had been actively searching for a house for more than three months without success. And 40 percent said they had more than five who have been unable to find a place they liked or who have seen their offers rejected because they involved financing.

NAHREP’s members, 75 percent of whom are realty agents and 25 percent of whom are in the mortgage business, report that the first-time buyer clients are “losing out” to investors who can pay cash.

Prior to the housing crisis, the report notes, investors were a negligible part of the housing market.

In 2011, both mom-and-pop companies and big outfits with pockets full of money accounted for just a 5-percent share of all single-family home transactions. But last year, according to real estate data firm RealtyTrac, more than 40 percent of all sales were made to cash buyers.

“This astounding trend of cash sales and increasing percentage of sales to institutional investors ultimately results in a reduction of up to 50 percent of the available housing inventory to owner-occupant buyers,” the report says.

The trend is particularly acute in markets with a heavy Latino population.

In Miami, for example, two-thirds of the homes sold last year were for cash. And in Atlanta, the fastest growing major city for Hispanics, 48 percent of the sales in last year’s fourth quarter were to institutional investors.

In more expensive markets like Los Angeles and Chicago, sales to investors did not exceed the national average. But they were higher than the historical norms.

Worse, perhaps, is that the “land grab” of inexpensive, first-time buyer houses artificially drives up prices to the point where Hispanic and other owner-occupants are driven out of the market, the report says.

“The net effect of this trend is that it destines many Latino families to be renters by systematically edging them out of the prospect of home ownership,” the report says. “Communities that were once dominated by owner-occupants have become rental communities.”

NAHREP also faults tighter credit standards for the fall-off in first-time Hispanic buyers. New lending regulations and higher down-payment requirement have simply made it more difficult for any rookie buyer, Latino or not, the group says.

But it says “misguided government programs” that favor investors “have had unintended consequences that have contributed to the severe lack of housing inventory in dozens of Hispanic neighborhoods, leaving thousands of qualified buyers on the sidelines while inviting an unprecedented wave of institutional investors into the market.”

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