Institutional investor participation in the single family residential market fell another notch in the third quarter of 2014.  RealtyTrac said today that only 4.3 percent of residential sales in the most recently completed quarter went to those investors, defined as those who purchase 10 or more properties in a calendar year.  This group was responsible for purchases of 5.0 percent of single family homes and condos in the second quarter and 5.3 percent in the third quarter of 2013.  The recent results were the smallest since the fourth quarter of 2010. 

The number of transactions that were all cash also declined, from 36.9 percent in the second quarter to 33.9 percent in the third.  The all-cash percentage was unchanged from the third quarter of 2013.

"Cash sales continue to be an important piece of the real estate puzzle right now, representing one in every three home sales nationwide in the third quarter of 2014 and helping to drive up U.S. median home prices 38 percent over the last two and half years," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "As institutional investors and other cash buyers slow down their purchasing in many markets across the country, more traditional buyers - including first-time homebuyers and move-up buyers - will need to increasingly fill in the missing puzzle pieces to maintain the momentum of the housing recovery.

Blomquist said that while institutional investors are still actively in the market they are tending to gravitate to areas where there is still low-end inventory available.  He noted that some markets have seen a recent surge in cash transactions and these often coincided with either a rebound in distressed sales or a booming job market creating a competitive bidding environment where cash gives buyers an edge.

Cash sales in the third quarter skewed higher on both ends of the home price spectrum. Cash sales accounted for 64 percent of purchases of homes selling for $100,000 or less, and for 41 percent of purchases of homes selling for more than $2 million.  Cash sales also dominated in the distressed home market accounting for 54.6 percent of REO and short sales.

In other housing news the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) reported that home prices were up during the third quarter in most of the county's major metropolitan areas.  Median prices of existing single-family homes increased in 125 or 73 percent of the 172 areas tracked by NAR.  Forty-seven areas or 27 percent saw median prices slip from a year ago. During the second quarter there were median price increases in 71 percent of metro areas.  NAR's data is based on transactions that closed during the quarter.

While prices were still rising NAR said that only 16 metros or 9 percent had percentage price increases in the double digit range in the third quarter compared to 54 areas or 33 percent during the third quarter of 2013 and nineteen areas in the second quarter of this year. 

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says home prices in the third quarter continued to stabilize towards a healthier rate of growth. "Home-price gains returned to more normalized levels of low- to mid-single digit rate of appreciation in many metro markets as inventory levels steadily increased," he said. "Moreover, there are a good number of local markets that are still remarkably affordable with median prices at or under $200,000."

Yun adds, "Given the improving labor market and historically low interest rates, more buyers are anticipated to enter the market next year."  

NAR looked at metro area condominium and cooperative prices in 61 metro areas and found 41 (67 percent) had increased from a year ago while 20 areas declined.  Based on those areas NAR said the national median existing condo price was $211,000 in the third quarter, 2.7 percent higher than a year ago when the median was $205,000.  The national median existing single-family home price in the third quarter was $217,300, up 4.9 percent from the third quarter of 2013 ($207,100). The median price during the second quarter of 2014 increased 4.2 percent year-over-year.