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Cash is king as home sales rise

    Money talks, as the saying goes.
    And its voice has been particularly loud in the Tuolumne County housing market, where cash sales have accounted for more than a third of all homes bought in the past several months.
    Roughly 38 percent of homes sold in February were purchased with cash, according to Ann Ritchie, executive officer with the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors. This is a significant increase over the same month in 2009, when cash home sales accounted for 27 percent of the local market.
        “This seems to be happening all over the nation,” she said.
    In fact, Tuolumne County has one of the highest percentages of homes purchased with cash in the state. For example, Nevada and Shasta counties both had 37 percent cash home sales, while San Bernardino had 36 percent. Yolo and El Dorado counties had two of the lowest levels of cash sales with both bringing in roughly 19 percent.
   Those who have the ability to pay for property up front are snapping up foreclosures and otherwise distressed properties, according to Ritchie. Of the homes purchased with cash in February — the month with the most current data available — 59 percent were foreclosures.
    Most of the homes being purchased are also substantially cheaper than they were a few years ago.
    The median price of Tuolumne County homes was $136,500 in February, according to the Association of Realtors. Just two years ago, the median price was more than $281,000.
    Like the saying goes: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
    Sellers will often accept a cash offer that is lower than one being made by a home buyer seeking FHA financing or a conventional bank loan, according to Melissa Oliver, a broker with PMZ Realty.
    “Sellers like the cash because it’s quick,” she said.
    Cash offers face fewer stumbling blocks, and escrows can close within 20 days, she said. FHA loans, meanwhile, can take months to approve and have far more stringent guidelines regarding the condition of the house and the buyer’s ability to make payments.
    It is common for first-time homebuyers who require financing to be beaten out of a home sale by cash buyers, Oliver said.
    Some of the cash sales are coming from local investment groups looking to flip the homes for profit, while others are looking to buy property with the intention of renting it out, according to Clark Segerstrom of Coldwell Banker Segerstrom in Sonora.
    But most of Oliver’s clients are wealthy Bay Area residents looking for summer homes.
    “It’s a secondary home market,” she said. “It’s amazing how many of the sales are cash.”
    Many banks are maintaining large inventories of foreclosed homes that have not been offered for sale, Oliver said. As a result, homes are surprisingly scarce in the Tuolumne County housing market.
    Homebuyers with the capital to do so are offering large lump sums for homes sight unseen in the hopes of a quick sale. She has recently fielded offers from clients willing to pay more than $400,000 in cash for homes that they have only seen through pictures online.
    “Anything that’s halfway decent is getting multiple offers,” Oliver said.
    Buyers have paid as much as $600,000 or as little as $80,000 in cash for homes in Tuolumne County this year, according to Ritchie.
    The benefits are numerous for the few buyers who do have enough money stashed away to pay for a house up front. They face shorter closing periods, fewer limitations on title transfers and, of course, no monthly mortgage payments.
    “These days it’s hard to get a loan,” Segerstrom said. “Cash just means things go more smoothly.”

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