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Cash is king again in Sonoma County real estate

  • Cary Bertolone, co-owner of Bertolone Realty in Santa Rosa, poses for a portrait at a Santa Rosa home being purchased with cash because it could not qualify for a mortgage. (ALVIN JORNADA/Press Democrat)

Cary Bertolone has eight home sales in escrow.

Seven of them are all-cash deals.

Bertolone, a co-owner in his family's Bertolone Realty in Santa Rosa, acknowledged he was a little shocked to look back and realize that more than half the deals he personally closed last year were done solely with cash.

He attributes it largely to more-conservative investors who want a decent return on their cash and who don't want to worry about making mortgage payments in an uncertain economy.

"There's a lot of old money getting into real estate," Bertolone said. "They don't want to take chances."

2012 was a banner year for cash sales in Sonoma County, with 2,122 condos and houses sold without conventional financing, according to real estate information service DataQuick.

Cash sales amounted to one in every three homes sold in the county. It was the largest number of such deals since at least 2000 and possibly the most ever.

The largest group of cash buyers appear to be investors who plan to rent out the properties or fix them up and resell them.

"It is why there are so many more cash transactions now," said Mary Anne Veldkamp, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Santa Rosa.

California last year set a record with 145,797 cash deals, which amounted to 32.4 percent of all home sales, according to DataQuick. It was double the annual average of 15.6 percent going back to 1991.

The wealthy long have used cash to buy second homes in the county. These days they have been joined by the self-employed, who find it difficult to get loans; by parents helping adult children get their first home; and by baby boomers who have received inheritances.

"There's money being passed down the family tree, which can be invested," said Tim Freeman, manager of Coldwell Banker in Santa Rosa.

Investors with cash often tell agents they are looking for better returns than 1 percent in today's savings accounts. And they are aware that the median single-family sales price in the county today remains 41 percent below its peak of $619,000 in August 2005.

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