Those glory days when selling a home left you with money in your pocket are making a long-overdue return to Sacramento, new figures suggest.
In recent months, traditional equity sales in which sellers clear their loan balances and walk away with cash reached their highest numbers across the Sacramento region since the last housing boom peaked in 2005, according to DataQuick, a San Diego-based real estate information service.
For the first time in five years, traditional home sales added up to more than half the homes sold on the open market, the data firm said.
That's a big change from even this spring, when foreclosures and other distressed properties made up the majority of the Sacramento area market.
Move-up buyers and downsizers are fueling the change, lured by historically low interest rates and pent-up demand, real estate professionals said. Well-priced houses in desirable areas are moving fast, many for above asking price, the latest data showed.
"It's been clear most of this year that the move-up market was heating up," said DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage. "It's a slow return to normalcy."
In the three-month period from August to October, equity sales amounted to nearly 54 percent of the 10,000 homes sold across the four-county Sacramento area, DataQuick reported. Those figures don't include houses sold to investors at auctions, a sizable chunk these days.
It was the first time since 2007 that equity sales topped the 50-percent mark regionwide during those months, the firm said. And it's not just market share: The approximately 5,400 equity sales recorded in August, September and October were the most in those months since the height of the housing boom in 2005, when about 7,500 equity sales were recorded in the same three-month span.
The recent change has surprised some would-be sellers.
Dennis Hagen and his wife were caught off-guard by the fast-changing market when they got ready to retire this year and move to Santa Cruz.
They knew they would need to sell their longtime Land Park home, which they owned outright, to pay for a house near the ocean, but figured they would wait until spring when the market might improve.
Don't wait, their real estate agent, Sue Olson of Coldwell Banker, urged them. The scant supply of homes on the market, and an excess of buyers trying to take advantage of low interest rates, made now the time to sell, she said.
Within days of listing their home in late October, the couple accepted an offer for close to the asking price of $779,000 from another couple who wanted to move from the Placer County foothills to be closer to downtown Sacramento
"It was lightning fast," Hagen said. "We were stunned."
The couple's experience, nearly unthinkable a year or two ago, is becoming more common.
Many equity sales these days happen fast, with well-priced homes in desirable areas going for or above the asking price.
The average time on the market for equity sales in Sacramento County was 24 days, according to TrendGraphix, a Sacramento-based data service.
More than half the approximately 2,700 equity sales in the county from August to October sold for the list price or more, the firm said.
That's primarily because of the low number of homes for sale and basic laws of supply and demand said Jean Li, president of TrendGraphix and chairwoman of Lyon Real Estate.
The phenomenon of quick sales is happening beyond upscale enclaves such as Land Park.
In Sacramento County, several middle-class neighborhoods saw homes sell, on average, in less than 15 days during October, even when excluding foreclosures and short sales, according to data from the Sacramento Association of Realtors
Homes in Antelope sold in an average of just 11 days. Homes in Citrus Heights and the Laguna section of Elk Grove took an average of 12 days to sell. And homes in the Vineyard area north of Elk Grove sold in an average of 13 days.
Buyers, aware of the situation, aren't waiting around. If they see a home that's priced right and fits their needs, they'll often make a strong offer fast.
"It's a seller's market," Li said. "Buyers will just grab it if it's right."
Danny Ponder was among them. A mortgage broker, he recently decided to buy a 2,300-square-foot house in Land Park that was big enough to accommodate his growing family.
"We need that fourth bedroom," he said.
The couple that owned it had decided to buy a new home in Davis to fulfill their needs, and Ponder said he made an offer as soon as it hit the market. His thought at the time: "It's gonna go fast."