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After accounting one out of four home sales in the depths of the housing recession and fueled turn-arounds in dozens of markets where waves of foreclosures and battered home values scared off other buyers, real estate investors today are playing a greatly diminished role in the housing recovery.

Investors No Longer in the Driver’s Seat

After accounting for one out of four home sales in the depths of the housing recession and fueled turn-arounds in dozens of markets where waves of foreclosures and battered home values scared off other buyers, real estate investors today are playing a greatly diminished role in the housing recovery.

The latest Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey results suggest first-time homebuyers and current homeowners, not investors, are in fact the major players in this year’s marketplace.

The active presence of non-investor homebuyers is helping create a remarkably strong market for non-distressed properties leading into the important spring-summer home buying season.

HousingPulse nationwide data for March show that current homeowners continued to dominate the overall home purchase market with a 42.2 percent market share, based on a three-month moving average. While that was down from the levels seen last fall, it was still up on a year-over-year basis. First-time homebuyers stepped up their activity, reaching an eight-month market share high of 36.1 percent in March.

Investors’ share of the national housing market fell to 21.8 percent in March, down from a peak of 25.3 percent of all transactions in May 2012.

Last week a leading analyst on single family rentals also argued that the housing recovery is being driven more by buyers seeking a place to live than by investors.

Oliver Chang, a former Morgan Stanley analyst and proponent of bringing institutional capital to rental housing, told Bloomberg News that purchases by owner-occupants seeking to take advantage of mortgage rates that are close to a record low have been the biggest factor in rising home prices and sales following the worst housing crash since the Great Depression

“It’s possible that investors are less in the driver’s seat and more along for the ride,” Chang wrote in a note before the Information Management Network conference on single-family rentals that starts today in Miami. “The housing recovery appears to be broad-based and here to stay, although not because of the entrance of institutional investors into the space.” Chang left Morgan Stanley last year to co-found Sylvan Road Capital LLC, an Atlanta-based single-family home rental investment fund.

The HousingPulse Tracking Survey released today reported very robust non-distressed housing sales even though a lack of inventory is continuing to plague many areas around the country, “We are seeing a very strong market for non-distressed properties and that is important because the metrics for this segment are not affected by policy decisions at mortgage servicers to release or not release distressed properties onto the market,” noted Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell Surveys. “It bodes well for the spring-summer buying season.”

The average number of offers for non-distressed properties, based on a three-month moving average, hit a three-and-a-half year high of 2.2 in March, HousingPulse results show. In the hot California housing market, the average number of offers for non-distressed properties was 4.0 in March.

Another important measure of the strength of the non-distressed market is the average time it takes to sell a property. In March, the average time-on-market for non-distressed properties fell to 10.9 weeks – the lowest level recorded by HousingPulse in three-and-a-half years.

The ratio of a home listing price to its actual sales price, a key gauge of homebuyer demand, also reached new highs for non-distressed properties in March, according to HousingPulse results. The average sales-to-list-price ratio for non-distressed properties was 96.8 percent last month. That compared to 94.9 percent a year ago.

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