How rich homebuyers are avoiding high mortgage rates

How rich homebuyers are avoiding high mortgage rates

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The all-cash deal is back in vogue for homebuyers, a shift that favors the wealthy.

Luxury housing markets in New York and Florida are boasting near record-high shares of transactions paid in cash, according to first quarter data from real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel Inc.

That represents a sharp reversal from more mortgage-dependent deals during the pandemic, when interest rates were considerably lower.

“These people have the privilege and the leverage,” said Jacky Teplitzky, who leads a Douglas Elliman brokerage team that serves the New York City, South Florida, and Hamptons luxury housing markets.

“They are saying to themselves, ‘OK, I’ll buy cash and when interest rates go down, I’ll refinance and take my money out.'”

Waterfront properties are shown by luxury real estate agent Bonnie Heatzig on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. (Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) (Sun Sentinel via Getty Images)

Well-heeled buyers are just as averse to today’s higher mortgage rates, currently above 7%, as everyday home seekers. They simply have the means to circumvent rates more often than those with smaller budgets.

Read more: Mortgage rates top 7% — is this a good time to buy a house?

All-cash transactions are on the rise across all price points. The share of all-cash purchases in the US in the first quarter of the year was a monthly average of 31%, according to data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That matches the highest monthly average for any full year since 2013.

But the numbers are considerably higher in places like Manhattan, one of the nation’s best-known luxury markets. In the first quarter, 63.4% of Manhattan sales were all cash, the third-highest share in a decade, according to Miller Samuel. Meanwhile, the share of mortgage transactions was the lowest on record.

A normal Manhattan market, where the average sales price for luxury homes was $7.5 million in the first quarter, would be “50% cash and 50% finance,” said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel Inc.

The luxury supertall condo tower, 432 Park Avenue, is reflected in a window as it stands in Midtown Manhattan on May 16, 2022, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

The story is similar in some of Florida’s ritzier markets.

All-cash sales made up 85.7% of all transactions in Royal Palm and Boca Raton, Fla. — above the decade average for the first quarter. The average sales price there was nearly $10.9 million.

In the Florida coastal towns of Manalapan, Ocean Ridge, and Hypoluxo Island, 92.9% of all sales — with an average sales price of $9 million — were in cash, the second-highest share in a decade.

And in Miami Beach, the all-cash market share for luxury condos — sold on average for $6.5 million — hit a fresh high in the quarter.

“Cash isn’t exclusive to the wealthy, but the probability increases as you move higher in price,” Miller said, “because of equity withdrawals from the booming stock market and other assets that they can leverage to make the purchase.”

And in the first quarter, the S&P 500 did boom, jumping just over 10%.

Condo buildings are seen April 5, 2016, in Miami Beach, Fla. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Joe Raedle via Getty Images)

In a different market, these well-off homebuyers may have tapped a line of credit backed by their stock portfolios to make a purchase, Teplitzky said, a transaction that would still be considered all-cash by the seller.

But that’s become less palatable with higher interest rates — along with taking out a mortgage.

In a lower-rate environment, others may have paid all cash, but refinanced soon after to capitalize on a tax or other wealth strategy, Miller said.

“They buy a $10 million apartment and then they get a $1 million or $1.5 million mortgage after they close because their advisers told them to,” he said. “That’s very common, but you’re not seeing that as much either because of where rates are.”

But there are some advantages to buying now with cash. Both Miller and Teplitzky expect prices to continue to go up, especially if mortgage rates moderate, so buyers now are getting a better deal than waiting for later.

Buyers with cash may also get a better deal. A recent study from the University of California San Diego Rady School of Management found that all-cash buyers pay 10% less on average than mortgage buyers.

All-cash offers also stand out in a bidding war, Teplitzky said, because bids that depend on financing are not a sure thing.

“But if it’s an all-cash deal, you’re basically guaranteed that you’re going to get to the closing table,” she said.

While affluent buyers are more likely to have the financial wherewithal to pull off an all-cash deal, these types of transactions are becoming more common in lower price ranges as well.

The current level of all-cash purchases was last this high in 2011 and 2013 when foreclosures and short sales accounted for many of the all-cash transactions that investors scooped up, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR.

That’s far from the case now. Distressed sales made up just 2% of all sales in the first quarter and the number of investors in the market is “sort of normal — nothing exceptional,” Yun said.

Today’s all-cash buyers are “of course, high-income, high-net-worth people,” Yun said.

But in the more mid-priced markets, they are retirees who are moving from a high-cost market to a more affordable one and bringing cash to the table from the sale of their previous home, which experienced a run-up in value over the last four years.

They are also younger buyers who can tap other sources for money — family or retirement savings — to increase their chances in multiple-offer situations.

“People have to be creative to win the bid, and some of that creativity is coming up with the cash,” Yun said.

“But it’s frustrating for people who are unable to compete with cash.”

Janna Herron is a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @JannaHerron.

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