Last week, Sougata Mukherjee—the editor-in-chief at The Triangle Business Journalas plainly a pro-business local publication as you might imagine—published a fascinating editorial that delves into the Triangle’s frankly troubling current real estate market.

Mukherjee positions the market’s problems—inflated home prices, dwindling inventory—as more than just “a normal organic supply and demand issue,” and suggests that there are darker forces at play that could ultimately spell trouble for not only first-time homebuyers but also for those who have chosen to make their homes here in the region for the long term.

The TBJ engaged Atlasa, a San Francisco-based real estate brokerage that specializes in analytics to dig deep to find out “exactly who is buying these houses—and why the inventory has dropped in precipitous fashion.”

Looking at data from 1,602 home sales in the Raleigh area during the first quarter of 2021, and 831 home sales in the Durham area during the same period, Atlasa was tasked with finding out “who’s buying these houses, where they work and where they are coming from as well as a few other variables.”

Here’s what they discovered:

“Deniz Kahramaner, founder and CEO of Atlasa, says about 22 percent of all sales in the Raleigh area between January and March came from out-of-state buyers. Raleigh-Durham residents made up 44 percent of all sales.

Guess where the remainder is coming from—limited liability companies, trusts, wealthy buyers who mask their identities and, of course, folks who never identified where they were relocating from in various public and private forums and on social media. Atlasa extracts information from all available sources to populate the details.

So if you parse out the folks in the area who bought homes to upgrade or downsize, we are talking about a large percentage of people and companies and entities that are preying on this market to make a profit. And Atlasa’s Kahramner acknowledges that until that percentage comes down, home prices will continue to go up.

A supply shortage makes the single-family rental market stronger for these investors. And they will dump all these properties about 30 days after there are signs the market is softening and the U.S. economy is wavering. Do they care about our communities? I don’t think I need to answer that.”

The employers of these known homebuyers are unsurprising: the local universities (N.C. State is No. 1 on the list), and the local tech, financial, and health care companies (Cisco, Fidelity Investments, Red Hat, UNC Rex, IBM, Duke University, Iqvia, Duke Health, Wells Fargo, respectively).

What’s startling, Mukherjee writes, is that “we really don’t know much about half of the home sales in the area. And we don’t know the buyers’ ultimate intentions either.”

While market forces are pushing would-be first-time homebuyers into the status of perpetual renters, Mukherjee says, as worryingly, another housing crisis like the one we saw in 2008 could “take out folks whose retirement rides on the back of their most-prized asset: their home.”

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