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Priced Out of Paradise: Florida homebuyers feel they're getting squeezed by investment firms, hedge funds

40% of home sales in Palm Beach County were with cash in 2021
Florida homes, aerial view
Posted at 2:10 PM, Feb 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-09 18:28:41-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — From St. Lucie County to Boca Raton, the world of real estate is a sellers' market. These days sellers are running to cash offers, which is leaving many buyers feeling squeezed out.

It seems that buying a home has never been tougher in Florida.

People looking to own a home are competing against a pile of cash or something relatively new in the last decade — a faceless investment firm.

Larry Scott was simply looking to buy a starter home for his growing family. Ten times he tried to buy a home and lost out.

Larry Scott, homebuyer
Larry Scott says it took him and his family months before they were able to buy a home in Florida.

"After the first one, we found it was conventional cash and then people say, 'Oh, well, they can close quicker,' or 'Hey, I'm sorry they paid in cash,' and that was the biggest thing," Scott said.

In a wild real estate market, cash is king and these days there are more buyers with ready cash.

The trade association Florida Realtors said last year that more than 40 percent of home sales in Palm Beach County were for cash — an increase of nearly 30 percent.

"There's a lot of people who have cash. There's a lot of money that has been printed," said Jeff Lichtenstein, the founder of Echo Fine Properties in Palm Beach Gardens. "People are flush with cash, but then you're running into hedge funds and other institutions that are in the market as well."

Jeff Lichtenstein, Echo Fine Properties
Jeff Lichtenstein says homebuyers are competing against investment firms for houses.

Investment firms and hedge funds buying up homes made headlines last year when the Wall Street Journal reported an investment firm bought an entire community of homes in Texas.

Sunny markets like South Florida are prime pickings for the firms.

Online real estate brokerage Redfin studied the hottest real estate markets and found in the third quarter of last year investors bought 18 percent of the homes and three out of four single-family houses.

In the West Palm Beach market, the number was 15 percent — an 8 percent hike from a year ago.

Karan Kaul with the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Urban Institute said home buying by firms started in 2011 and has continued ever since.

"They want to buy homes at the best price they possibly can," Kaul said. "They want to fix them up as efficiently as they possibly can, and they want to put them out on the market for renting as soon as they can."

Karan Kaul of Urban Institute
Karan Kaul believes a shortage of housing is resulting in the problem more than investment firms buying up homes.

But Kaul insists institution home buying is not squeezing out buyers and inflating prices as much as the housing shortage.

Scott came up with a new strategy to compete with cash buyers and institutions by getting pre-approved.

"I would look into trying to get underwriting first," Scott said. "Because once we did that, the first home we looked at, done."

Scott bought a new home for his family in St. Lucie County.

It's an area that many Floridians are discovering now that cash buyers and investment firms have their eyes on Palm Beach County.

The fact remains that the American dream of owning a home is harder than ever to achieve.

All the cash buying for homes by investors and individuals means homes are selling much quicker.

Last year homes in Palm Beach County were on the market an average of 15 days, which was down from 37 days the year before.