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Are Investors Souring on Housing?

AP

Last year, when the rest of the nation's housing was still reeling from recession, California started to show signs of life.

Sales increased and prices stabilized, despite the fact that it was one of the hardest hit states with one of the highest foreclosure rates.

California's savior was investors.

They came in fast, cash in hand, and started snatching up distressed properties at a fast pace.

That interest appears to be waning.

While sales of existing homes shot up across most of the nation in April, they fell in the West, down 6.2 percent.

"The sales are lower because of lack of inventory on lower-priced homes," says Lawrence Yun of the National Association of Realtors. "The California market was one of the first markets to go down sharply but also the first market to rebound."

The inventory of low-priced homes is low because of big investor demand initially and because banks are being very careful with REO (bank owned) properties, releasing them slowly onto the market so as not to tank prices.

But that's not all of it.

"We know the tax-credit has pushed low-priced houses up sharply and investors have backed away big-time in recent months, not wanting to compete with a bunch of first-timers and their Obama coupons," says mortgage analyst Mark Hanson. "Perhaps this is the end of the demand cycle from first timers and investors who have had their fill."

On the other hand, some of the numbers may be skewed due to the increasing prevalence of short sales, where the bank allows the home to be sold for less than the value of the mortgage.

"The proportion of damaged foreclosed properties or so-called real estate owned (REO) sold during April plunged," according to the latest Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance Monthly Survey of Real Estate Market Conditions. "Damaged REO accounted for 15.4 percent of transactions in March, but only 12.8 percent in April. One reason for the drop in damaged REO may be increasing numbers of short sales."

Now that the tax credit is over, and foreclosures are moving through the bank pipelines more quickly, perhaps investors will come back in larger numbers. Prices are certainly low enough!

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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