(Dataquick) -- The number of California homes purchased with cash reached an all-time high last year, the result of high investor interest, a difficult mortgage environment, and perceived higher returns on investment, a real estate information service reported.
A total of 145,797 condos and houses were bought without mortgage financing in 2012, a record. That was up from 125,812 in 2011, the previous high. In 2007, as the housing market deflated, cash sales totaled 39,731, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.
"It's clear that a lot of today's housing market recovery is being fueled by people putting their own money into homes. Some cash buying is part of a normal housing market, but we're at twice that normal rate. There are always some rich people, also buyers from abroad, but in a normal market the biggest single category would be retirees and empty-nesters who are down-sizing. Today, a lot of buyers are chasing what they view as the deal of a lifetime," said John Walsh, DataQuick president.
Cash purchases accounted for a record 32.4 percent of California's overall home sales last year, up from 30.4 percent in 2011 and more than double the annual average of 15.6 percent since 1991, when DataQuick's cash statistics begin.
"I'm sure a lot of today's cash buyers would love to take advantage of the current low mortgage interest rates, but since the 'loans-gone-wild' days of 2004-2006, the lending pendulum has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. Even a lot of well-qualified buyers can't get loans. While the market overall is improving, sales levels are still below average, and prices much closer to the bottom than to the peak," he said.
Last year a total of 447,573 homes were sold in California to all buyers, whether they used a loan or cash. While up from the cyclical low of 383,748 sales in 2007, last year's total was well below the peak of 775,831 sales in 2004, and it was about 13 percent below the state's average annual home sales since 1988.
The median price paid for a California home, whether financed or bought with cash, was $275,000 in 2012, up 10.0 percent from $250,000 in 2011. The annual median peaked at $469,500 in 2006, and bottomed out at $245,000 in 2009. Around half of the median's peak-to-trough drop can be attributed to shifts in market mix.
DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.