It’s taken several years, but in many parts of the country, home prices are nearly back to where they were at the peak. In places like Florida, where the housing recession hit hard, home prices rose last year by one-fifth or more.
A major factor in the price rise is hedge funds, private equity firms and other large investors. They’ve moved aggressively into the residential market over the past two years, buying tens of thousands of distressed properties, often at bargain prices.
Some analysts are worried that those bulk purchases will leave middle-class buyers out in the cold.
One place where investors have been very active is Florida’s Palm Beach County. Jeff Lichtenstein is a real estate agent there, and he’s busy. He’s listing and selling homes at a pace reminiscent of the go-go days of the last real estate boom back in 2005 and 2006. “I have 19 or 20 under contract right now, which is the most I’ve had at any given time,” he says.
Lichtenstein is currently showing a home he has listed in PGA National, a resort and residential development with more than 5,000 homes. It’s a community of palm trees, lakes, golf courses and manicured lawns.
“This was built in ’92 or ’93. Three bedrooms, three baths,” he explains as he shows off the house, which has a back patio looking out onto a golf course. “The view is what people come here to Florida for.”
The home is listed for $499,000, a bit below what it would have sold for at the peak, Lichtenstein says. But in Florida, Arizona, Las Vegas and parts of California, prices are rising fast. In South Florida, home prices climbed 21 percent last year.