Cash-rich real estate investors trigger bidding wars, frustrate other buyers

Melissa Diggins and her fiance, George Mills, live in the basement of his parents' house in Woodbridge with their two Great Danes, the tan-colored Achilles and Odin. They made a dozen offers on houses in Prince William County, some well above the asking price, but lost out on all of their bids, more than half of the time to investors making all-cash offers. "We thought to ourselves: 'Enough is enough,' " Diggins says. "We'd sometimes offer more than the asking price and we wouldn't even get a call back. It was crazy."
Melissa Diggins and her fiance, George Mills, live in the basement of his parents' house in Woodbridge with their two Great Danes, the tan-colored Achilles and Odin. They made a dozen offers on houses in Prince William County, some well above the asking price, but lost out on all of their bids, more than half of the time to investors making all-cash offers. "We thought to ourselves: 'Enough is enough,' " Diggins says. "We'd sometimes offer more than the asking price and we wouldn't even get a call back. It was crazy." (Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)
By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Investors have reemerged with brute force in the Washington region's real estate market over the past few months, triggering bidding wars in some neighborhoods teeming with foreclosed properties and hindering traditional home buyers such as Melissa Diggins.

Diggins and her fiance, George Mills, made a dozen offers on houses in Prince William County but lost more than half of them to investors making all-cash offers.

Frustrated, they gave up their search for a new home, convinced that they could not compete.

"We thought to ourselves: 'Enough is enough,' " said Diggins, a graphic designer. "We'd sometimes offer more than the asking price and we wouldn't even get a call back. It was crazy."

With interest rates low and home prices way down from their peaks, all-cash investors are snapping up the cheapest properties and helping clear out the excess supply of homes on the market. They're betting that the market has hit bottom or will soon.

But that's of little consolation to traditional home buyers such as Diggins, who find themselves at a disadvantage because their offers usually hinge on financing contingencies, appraisals and home inspections.

"What's happening in this area reflects what's happening in other parts of the country," said Sam Khater, senior economist at First American CoreLogic, which plans to release a report soon on all-cash deals. "In markets where price declines have been steep, we've seen quite a bit of competition between the low-end, first-time home buyers and investors."

All-cash sales are tough to track because of inconsistencies in the way jurisdictions collect data. But Khater said the preliminary data his firm has gathered suggest the deals are becoming more popular. More than a dozen real estate agents and consumers interviewed for this article say they have witnessed the buying frenzy firsthand.

"There are bidding wars out there. It's like the 2005 market but at discount prices," said Stella Barbour, a real estate agent at Jobin Realty in Northern Virginia. "I put in offers for my clients only to find there are already multiple offers. They always choose the one that's all cash."

Some of these cash-only investors use their own money to buy properties, while others borrow it at high interest rates from other private sources.

Chris "CC" Cormack, an investor, said she used her own money to beat out four other offers and buy a townhouse in Ashburn this year. The home, a foreclosure, was listed for $214,500, and she got it for $220,000. Cormack fixed it up and sold it a few months later for a sizable profit.

"It had been under contract twice before, and both of those loans fell apart," said Cormack, who is also a real estate agent. "By the time I came along with all-cash offer, the bank said, 'I'll take it.' They did not want to take a chance on the deal falling apart again."


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