A once-rare feat of purchasing power has become more common in San Antonio’s red-hot housing market. A growing number of buyers are paying upfront in cash, real estate agents say.

When Cher Miculka, chair of the San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR), looked at figures from the board’s listing service, she said the sheer increase in cash purchases was unprecedented.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “These figures blew us away.”

Cash sales doubled in Bexar County this June over the same month in 2020 and 2019, according to SABOR’s numbers. In June, roughly 1 in 5 homes purchased in Bexar County went to a cash buyer.

Comparing all of 2019 to the first half of 2021, the proportion of homes sold to cash buyers jumped 5.3 percentage points, dipping slightly during the pandemic year of 2020.

Real estate agents say the proportion might be higher for expensive homes.

Binkan Cinaroglu, an agent with Kuper Sotheby's International Realty, said he's seen a roughly 30% increase in cash buyers this year for his listings. He specializes in homes worth more than $1 million.

All of it, he said, is powered by California residents flush with cash and Mexican nationals who are used to buying in cash anyway.

San Antonio's housing market has, like much of the country, become a bidding war, with many listings receiving multiple offers. It's not uncommon for houses to sell $10,000-$20,000 over the listing price.

For sellers, cash buyers are highly appealing because they signal strong purchasing power, agents say. Without involving a bank, a seller doesn't have to worry about whether a buyer's financing will fall through. Additionally, cash-only transactions are faster because they often skip steps like the appraisal process.

That appeal was true for Eric Treat, who recently sold a home in Lavaca to a cash buyer. He said he got the sense that the buyer had the financial means to take care of the house, which is roughly 100 years old.

"Cash is king," said Debra Maltz, an agent at Kuper Sotheby's International Realty. She's seen a number of cash purchases from buyers in Austin, where home prices have risen at a meteoric rate. In June, the median price of a house in Austin rose more than 30% over June 2020 to a record $575,000.

Meanwhile, the median price of a home in San Antonio is much cheaper, at slightly more than $348,000, though it increased more than 19% from June 2020 to June 2021, according to figures from SABOR.

Moving from more expensive markets, buyers are flocking to San Antonio for better deals.

Some of the cash purchases are attributed to companies like New York-based Knock and Homeward, based in Austin, which will make cash purchases of a new home on behalf of a client. It then holds onto that home until the client has sold their previous home, or it buys it from them outright.

Maynard "Doc" Stephens, a real estate agent with Keller Williams, has begun advising certain clients to use services like these.

"In this market, there's no such thing as a contingency," he said. "No one is looking at an offer where it says I have to sell my other house first."

Paying in cash is just one way zealous buyers try to make their offer stand out from the others — alongside paying far above the listing price and paying for their own closing costs.

Some, like Sara Briseño Gerrish, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Unlimited, have seen buyers offer seller-leasebacks, allowing the previous owner to rent their former house temporarily. Some have even allowed them to rent it for free for a period.

Some of the cash purchases are coming from investors, such as hedge funds. Real estate investors bought nearly 68,000 homes in 40 metro areas across the United States in the second quarter of 2021, more than has ever been recorded for a single quarter, according to Redfin, which also noted that 74% of these purchases were all-cash. Investors bought about 1 in 6 homes in the second quarter. (Redfin's analysis did not include Texas).

Zooming out, the rise in cash buyers also is seen across the United States, where 30% of home purchases in metro areas this year were made with cash — up from 25.3% last year, according to Redfin. The analysis said that in parts of Florida, more than half of homes sold this year were bought with cash.

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.