TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — If you’re thinking about buying a house in the Tampa Bay area, expect some stiff competition. The Tampa housing market is on fire, and 8 On Your Side found the competition likely includes some heavy hitters.

So what’s so difficult about buying a house here? You find something you like, make an offer, negotiate a deal. It sounds simple enough – until you run into multi-million dollar companies that are prepared to bring out the big guns.

Blaire Mershon is a millennial who believes home ownership is still the American dream.

“I’m kind of sick of throwing away money on rent,” Mershon said.

As Mershon experienced, high demand and low supply have made Tampa’s housing market tight.

“I viewed multiple houses and I put offers in on multiple houses,” she said. “There’s so many other people out there trying to compete for the same price range.”

8 On Your Side asked Mershon if she knew who outbid her.

“I have no idea. I would like to know,” she told us.

The question is could homebuyers like Mershon – and you – be competing with big public or private corporations on bids?

Suzanne Lanyi Charles, an assistant professor at Cornell University, said it’s possible.

“As you’re out on the market looking for a house, you may very well be competing with an institutional investor,” she said.

Charles, who received her doctorate in urban planning from Harvard University, researches institutional investors that buy single-family homes and turn them into rentals.

“This whole phenomenon we’re seeing is a direct outgrowth of the 2008 foreclosure crisis,” Charles explained.

Tampa already has one of the highest rates of single-family rentals in the country. Now, with so few homes for sale, Tampa Bay area families face stiff competition – and that drives up the price.

“They can offer a seller, say, a cash deal – or they can offer a seller a quick closing time,” said Charles.

The research shows institutional investors are looking for homes not more than 20 to 30 years old.

“They’re looking for three bedrooms, two-bath apartments or larger,” Charles said. “They’re looking for houses that are located in good school districts.”

When we asked if it sounds like they’re looking for what we’re looking for, Charles said, “yes.”

8 On Your Side found one rental company owns more than 8,000 homes in Tampa. Another owns nearly 2,500.

The corporations tell us they’re fulfilling a need as more Americans want to rent instead of buy.

The National Rental Home Council trade group claims institutional investors own only 0.5% of Florida’s homes and 4% of the inventory of single-family rental homes – a small percentage that doesn’t impact the market.

But Charles maintains that, since investor’s properties tend to be clustered, they do impact neighborhoods.

“The point I want to make is that when it’s concentrated, it’s not a small percentage,” said Charles.

Emma Pardo is both a homebuyer and a realtor. Like everyone else, she found the competition to be fierce when it came to buying a house of her own.

“The last house I put an offer on had 20 other offers I was competing with,” she said.

Pardo’s advice on competing in this market? Get pre-approval for financing so you can make an offer fast. Know the terms the seller is looking for and work with their schedule. And finally, partner with an agent who knows the area and can alert you as soon as a home goes on the market.

Is there a housing issue that concerns you? If you’d like to share your story, contact Investigator Mahsa Saeidi: