IRVINE, Calif. – July 2, 2015 – For the first time since Florida's housing crash hit full swing in 2009, cash was no longer king during May, a new report shows.

Cash has dominated the real estate market, with more than half of all sales in the Sunshine State for 64 straight months. But in May, cash funded only 47 percent of all home sales in the state, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac.

"I'm seeing a market that's going back to normal, quite frankly," said Frédéric Guitton, senior loan officer with First Home Mortgage of Winter Park. "The amount of cash buyers we have had in the marketplace in the last five or six years is not normal."

The last time mortgages drove Florida's housing market? That was so long ago that few people at the time had heard of short sales, nobody posted home photos to Instagram because it didn't exist, and Zillow was a clunky home-value website. The home-sales news from May could mean a return to a more normalized housing market, although challenges for credit-dinged buyers getting mortgages could further delay a full recovery.

In Metro Orlando, the housing market had been the province of cash-fisted buyers who secured more than half of Central Florida home sales from 2010 through 2013. It's slowly shifted toward a more normal landscape. RealtyTrac reported that 40 percent of the four-county area's May home sales were paid with cash. Even though that was the 13th-highest rate in the nation, cash sales in Orlando had dwindled from 44 percent a month earlier and from 51.3 percent a year earlier.

The decline of cash sales would seem to drive up prices as bottom-feeding investors get priced out of the market. But that might not happen: Home prices are likely to flatten out instead, said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.

One reason for lower price appreciation is that well-funded equity groups, such as Blackstone, have pushed up prices by purchasing more expensive houses than self-funded investors. Without the big funds driving up prices, demand for both affordable and moderately priced houses could actually soften, Blomquist said.

In addition, many buyers still suffer from credit challenges that include mortgage defaults, delinquencies and short sales. Credit rules have become more accommodating, but many of those buyers remain shut out of the market.

For Guitton, the return to normal means credit-challenged buyers will not find easy money instead of getting loans without income verification, as occurred during the run-up to the housing collapse.

The most challenged buyers now, he said, are higher-end house shoppers who need jumbo mortgages with short loan terms. Those loans, he added, are particularly difficult to find.

Florida cities in a top 5 ranking

Distressed sales (population of 200,000-plus): Tallahassee ranked second (24.2 percent), Pensacola fourth (23 percent) and Ocala fifth (21.7 percent).

REO sales: Tallahassee ranked third (12.6 percent) and Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville ranked fourth (11.9 percent).

Cash sales and institutional investors: The top five metro areas with a population of at least 200,000 with the highest share of cash buyers were all in Florida: Naples-Marco Island (56 percent), Sarasota-Bradenton, (54 percent), Miami (53.4 percent), Ocala (49.9 percent), and Cape Coral-Fort Myers (49.7 percent).

© 2015 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.), Mary Shanklin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.