In March 2012, Hogback LLC of Yakima purchased the former Napa Auto Parts property in Toppenish for $450,000.

A year later, Hogback sold the property, which was renovated into a shopping center with Dollar Tree and O’Reilly Auto Parts, for $2.15 million.

Because it had two national tenants with long-term leases, the property garnered a lot of interest from investors when it went on the market, said Sean Mack, a partner with Capital Pacific, a real estate firm with offices in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco that was involved in the transaction.

“There were investors from all over the West Coast,” Mack said. “And all of those investors are looking for more product similar to (the shopping center in) Toppenish.”

During the same month, the Yakima Retail Center, a shopping center at the city limits of Union Gap and Yakima, was sold to a Seattle-area investor for $3.31 million, well above the $870,000 that Spokane-based developer Bruce Miller paid for the property more than five years ago. The center’s tenants include Aspen Dental, Sprint and Subway.

That sale came several months after the same Seattle-area investor purchased the Scarborough Fair Shopping Center at Summitview and Ninth avenues in Yakima for $4.9 million.

Bill Almon Jr., designated broker at Almon Commercial Real Estate, remembers that during the economic recession, he would jump on leads for deals because they were so few and far between.

Now, he said, “It’s a matter (if) I can return all the phone calls in one day.”

Commercial real estate brokers in the Yakima Valley say the last year has been the busiest since the recent recession ended, with investors buying up everything from shopping centers to industrial buildings.

And the numbers show it.

In 2009, in the months following the start of the economic recession in 2008, commercial real estate sales in Yakima County totaled $63.4 million, a drop of 61 percent from just a year earlier, according to Headwaters-The Source, a Selah-based firm that tracks real estate sales.

At $136.4 million, 2012 sales were more than double that seen three years ago.

And 2013 is looking good so far: The $20.6 million in sales generated during the first quarter of the year is a 7.2 percent increase from the same period in 2012.

Growing confidence in the economy and record low interest rates have made buyers more willing to invest the cash they sat on during the recession, brokers said.

And for many, Yakima has been a prime investment spot.

Mack of Capital Pacific, who has worked with investors throughout the West Coast, said that commercial inventory has been tight in the Seattle area so buyers have taken interest in the Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities.

Russ Roberts, a certified commercial broker for Heritage Moultray Real Estate, said the cost to buy commercial properties in the Yakima Valley is also much lower than areas like Seattle.

A 10-unit apartment complex, for example, can go for as much as $2 million in the Seattle area. That same complex would cost about $600,000 in Yakima, he said.

“You just can get more bang for your buck,” Roberts said.

Improving financing conditions have also perked up the market. Shortly after the banking meltdown in 2008, lenders began demanding a 50 percent down payment, something that most buyers were unable or unwilling to offer.

These days, banks have relaxed lending standards a bit, though they are far from the laxness that contributed to the real estate bubble. These days, a 25 percent down payment is typical, which is still substantial.

However, record low interest rates help offset the down payment requirement.

“Low 4 (percent range) is very doable in this market,” Mack said, noting that rates vary greatly depending on the loan terms.

Though sales have improved, they still are below levels seen in the years leading up to the economic recession. Still, commercial real estate brokers believe it’s a much more balanced market.

Mack said that while the recent sale of the shopping center in Toppenish likely yielded a nice return for the seller, the buyer still got the property at a price that would allow for a reasonable return later on.

And investors have become smarter buyers who seek quality rather than a rock-bottom bargain.

If word gets around that a high-value property is up for sale, that property may get multiple offers before it’s even listed, Roberts said.

“I have a dozen (investors) waiting for the ‘right’ property,” he said.

And they’re willing to pay for a solid investment, such as a shopping center with tenants under long-term leases or a multi-unit apartment complex in a tight rental market.

“They are willing to accept higher prices for lower risk,” Almon Jr. said.

Mack remembers that when the market was hot nationwide, some buyers and sellers could complete a transaction without ever talking to each other. Now it’s more common for buyers and sellers, with or without their commercial real estate brokers, to hold conference calls or in-person meetings.

Potential buyers are “doing more due diligence,” Mack said. “... The questions are getting better. They are going in with eyes wide open.”

Almon Jr. agrees. He has encouraged those looking to sell or lease commercial property to be more transparent and open about sharing information with prospective buyers and tenants.

“The ones who are doing that are getting the deals done,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Capital Pacific.

• Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or at maihoang@yakimaherald.com.