January data provides an early hint of institutional buyers pulling back after driving the housing market recovery, online marketplace RealtyTrac reported.
But cold weather is not the reason, RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist said.
"It's unlikely that this pullback in purchasing is weather-related given that there were increases in the institutional investor share of purchases in colder-weather markets such as Denver and Cincinnati, even while many warmer-weather markets in Florida and Arizona saw substantial decreases in the share of institutional investors from a year ago," Blomquist said in a statement.
Institutional buyers are defined as buyers who purchase at least 10 properties in a calendar year.
In January, institutional buyers dropped to 5.2 percent of all residential property sales in the country, a 22-month low.
The 5.2 percent level compares to 7.9 percent in December and 8.2 percent in January 2013, RealtyTrac said.
The numbers are uneven. In Cape Coral-Fort Myers Fla., for example, institutional buying is down 70 percent from a year earlier. In Memphis, Tenn., it is down 64 percent. It is also down 59 percent in Tucson, Ariz., and 48 percent in Tampa, Fla.
But 23 of 101 monitored city markets posted year-over-year gains in institutional investor buying.
In Atlanta, institutional buying rose 9 percent; in Austin, Texas, it rose 162 percent. In Denver, institutional buying rose 21 percent. In Cincinnati and Dallas, it is up 83 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
The impact of institutional buying includes pros and cons. Any buying supports pricing and higher home prices allow home equity to rise, which contributes to borrowing and spending, spurring the economy. Home owners might also be convinced to put a home on the market, which balances out pricing, but helps put liquidity in the market, which is currently limping along with less available inventory than needed.
On the other hand, institutional buyers like to sell homes after quick repairs and detailing, which drives prices up artificially, as opposed to buying by young families who tend to invest long-term in their communities.
RealtyTrac said 17.5 percent of all January sales involved homes in foreclosure or short sales, up from 14.9 percent in December 2013, but down from January 2013, when sales of distressed homes was at 18.7 percent of all sales.
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