Hedge funds making a hot central Ohio housing market even tougher for home buyers


COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Home buyers are running into a new challenge when making an offer in this hot housing market.

Realtors say, for some, an unsuspecting group is paying well over asking price for homes all across central Ohio.

“It’s another buyer in the market, and right now we aren’t in need of more buyers in our market,” said Troy Marsh, a local real estate agent.

With home appreciation values the highest they’ve ever been, corporate buyers are investing more heavily in central Ohio real estate.

“Basically, what they do, they offer sight unseen offers, and they’re contingent on a due diligence period of varying lengths, usually no more than 14 days,” Marsh said.

But these aren’t your traditional home buyers. They’re hedge funds and other cash-liquid organizations looking to expand their portfolio, particularly in non-traditional markets, like Columbus.

“There’s probably four main players,” said Marsh, who says the affordability of central Ohio is attracting more buyers to the area. “Post-COVID trends seem to be that people are going to be willing to move places where they might be able to make their dollar stretch a little bit longer.”

One of the top players in the market is “American Homes for Rent.”

According to the company’s annual report — as of Dec. 31, 2019 — they owned more than 52,000 homes in 22 states.

“The institutional players in the market are long-term investors, so they may be well-capitalized, and they may think about being there for the long run,” said Itzhak Ben-David, a financial and real estate expert with the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. “So, they may take already into consideration a potential downturn or softening of the market.”

The Columbus Board of Realtors say sell prices are up nearly 22% from last May, and inventory under $250,000 is down 10% compared with 10 years ago.

It’s meaning that first-time buyers are being further squeezed out of an already tightly pinched market.

“Those buyers tend to not have as much liquid cash to compete,” Marsh said.

But the burden of these bulk-buyers does mean more inventory in a competitive rental market.

“Definitely, this is helping, because they’re traditionally turning an owner-occupant property into a rental property,” said Marsh.

And with some organizations targeting a relatively low return on their investment, these organizations bear the risk of a repeat crash like we saw in 2008.

“The more homes that they own as a percentage basis of our overall market, the bigger the risk is to the total market that the amount of inventory goes up by 25% overnight,” said Marsh, should one or more of these organizations choose to offload their Columbus assets.

However, real estate experts say that the doomsday scenario we saw in 2008 is unlikely to repeat itself.

In addition to increasing rental inventory, experts also say from a seller’s perspective it’s nice to have options especially if one of those options is a cash offer above asking price.

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