Investors bought 1.23 million homes last year, accounting for 27 percent of all existing homes bought in America, the greatest annual market share for investors ever recorded.
Over the past 12 months, investors' market increased 64.5 percent, from 749,000 homes and a 17 percent market share in 2010. By contrast, owner-occupied purchases fell 15.5 percent to 2.78 million and vacation or second home purchases increased rose 7.0 percent to 502,000 in 2011 from 469,000 in 2010, accrodiong to the National Assocation of Realtors.
The median investment-home price was $100,000 in 2011, up 6.4 percent from $94,000 in 2010, while the median vacation-home price was $121,300, down 19.1 percent from $150,000 in 2010.
Investment-home buyers in 2011 had a median age of 50, earned $86,100 and bought a home that was relatively close to their primary residence – a median distance of 25 miles, although 30 percent were more than 100 miles away.
NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said investors with cash took advantage of market conditions in 2011. "During the past year investors have been swooping into the market to take advantage of bargain home prices," he said. "Rising rental income easily beat cash sitting in banks as an added inducement. In addition, 41 percent of investment buyers purchased more than one property."
Yun said the shift in investment buyer patterns in 2011 shows the market, for the large part, is able to absorb foreclosures hitting the market. "Small-time investors are helping the market heal since REO (bank real estate owned) inventory is not lingering for an extended period. Any government program to sell REO inventory in bulk to large institutional companies should be limited to small geographic areas. Even where alternatives are needed, it's best to rely on the expertise of local businesses, nonprofit organizations and government," he said.
All-cash purchases have become fairly common in the investment- and vacation-home market during recent years: 49 percent of investment buyers paid cash in 2011, as did 42 percent of vacation-home buyers. Half of all investment home purchases in 2011 were distressed homes, as were 39 percent of vacation homes.
"Clearly we're looking at investors with financial resources who see real estate as a good investment and who aren't hesitant to use cash," Yun said. Of buyers who financed their purchase with a mortgage, large down payments were typical. The median down payment for both investment buyers in 2011 was 27 percent.
"The share of investment buyers who flipped property remained low in 2011, and many of those homes likely were renovated before reselling," Yun said. Five percent of homes purchased by investment buyers last year have already been resold, up from 2 percent in 2010. The typical investment buyer plans to hold the property for a median of 5 years, down from 10 years for buyers in 2010.
The typical vacation-home buyer was 50 years old, had a median household income of $88,600 and purchased a property that was a median distance of 305 miles from the primary residence; 35 percent of vacation homes were within 100 miles and 37 percent were more than 500 miles. Buyers plan to own their recreational property for a median of 10 years.
Lifestyle factors have consistently been the primary motivation for vacation-home buyers, while the desire for rental income drives investment purchases. Vacation homes purchased last year were more likely to be in suburban or rural areas; investment homes were concentrated in suburban locations.
Eighty-two percent of vacation-home buyers said the primary reason for buying was to use the property themselves for vacations, or as a family retreat. Thirty percent plan to use the property as a primary residence in the future, and only 22 percent plan to rent to others.
Half of investment buyers said they purchased primarily to generate rental income, and 34 percent wanted to diversify their investments or saw a good investment opportunity. Forty-four percent of investment properties were in the South, 23 percent in the West, 17 percent in the Midwest and 15 percent in the Northeast.
NAR's analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows there are 42.8 million investment units in the U.S., compared with 75.3 million owner-occupied homes.