MANATEE -- For more than a year, real estate agents and bankers have been preaching the power of the mortgage.
This is something old that is new again in an industry that saw money and lending guidelines tighten up after banks across the country failed in the wake of the subprime mortgage collapse in 2007 and 2008. The cash game that the housing market became for several years thereafter kept many prospective homeowners from buying for years.
But it's not like that anymore, particularly in Manatee County. A recent statistical analysis by the online financial technology company SmartAsset.com ranks Manatee County as the fourth-best place in Florida to get a mortgage in terms of getting approved for a loan. According to SmartAsset's ranking, nearly 64 percent of home loan applicants in the county get approved by banks and other lenders.
The top-ranked Florida mortgage market in the analysis was Sumter County, with a nearly 75 percent success rating. Sarasota County was seventh at 62.6 percent.
Peter Minarich, a mortgage banker with Homebridge Financial Service's office in Bradenton, said the numbers bear truth. Manatee County mortgage applicants working through his office are currently approved at a 90 percent rate.
It doesn't mean the days of lending to unqualified applicants are back, Minarich said.
What it does indicate is less-stringent home appraisal and deposit guidelines, plus a healthier economy, are bringing qualified buyers back to the banks.
"Does that mean we're back to 2006 levels? No," he said. "Will we ever be? No."
Another aspect of the market that might be a thing of the past: high levels of cash sales.
In June, cash single family home sales hit their lowest level in Manatee County in five years, dropping to 33 percent of total sales, according to Multiple Listing Service Statistics. That's down from about 42 percent a year earlier and more than 55 percent in early 2013.
Lisa Morrison, a Bradenton loan officer with MSC Mortgage, said financially qualified home-buyers are in the market as home sale volumes head into record territory.
Up to 70 percent of her clients prequalify for home loans.
"I think more people are coming back to the mortgage world," she said.
According to the SmartAsset.com statistics, that comeback is tied not only to bringing good credit scores to the table, but to the cost of mortgaging a home.
Using data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, the U.S. Census Bureau and other public and private data sources, the company found the average annual mortgage payment in Manatee County sits at $12,301, just a bit above the $12,159 in Sarasota County.
Minarich said these costs are relatively low, which fits a Manatee market that leans heavily toward the "blue-collar buyer" who works in manufacturing and other high-wage, hourly jobs.
Stafford Starcher, president of the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee, said the recovery of the mortgage market has been a big part of the resurgence of home sales in the two counties. During May and June, sales approached the highest volume in a decade.
A better mortgage climate has opened homeownership to some buyers who have been out of the market for years.
"We have people coming back from short sales that are eligible again," Starcher said.
While Manatee and Sarasota counties ranked well within Florida, the national mortgage picture reveals that there are some locations where it's almost impossible to fail to qualify for a home loan.
Several counties in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Texas saw loan approval rates of over 80 percent in the SmartAsset.com data.
Two of those counties, both in Nebraska, saw a 100 percent loan funding rate.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.