In an in-depth, data-driven special report, "10 Best Markets for Real Estate Investors," Inman News analyzed hundreds of housing markets nationwide to develop a list of those that may be best suited for investors.

The full report — available at no charge at — took into account economic, housing and demographic data from sources including median sales price data from CoreLogic, loan data from Lender Processing Services, foreclosure sales and discounts statistics from Realty Trac, InvestorScores from SmartZip, walkability scores from Walk Score, and population and unemployment data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data analyzed suggested that the 10 best markets for investors are: Indianapolis-Carmel, Ind.; Winchester, Va.-W.Va.; Gainesville, Fla.; Tucson, Ariz.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Md.-W.Va.; Salt Lake City; Richmond, Va.; Gainesville, Ga.; and Winston-Salem, N.C.

Seven out of the 10 markets are in the South, two are in the West, and one is in the Midwest. None of the markets are in the Northeast.

The results of the analysis reflect population growth and improving employment. In the past decade, the South has seen the biggest jump in population — up 14.3 percent to about 114 million people — and the West saw 13.8 percent population growth, to nearly 72 million.

Four of the top 10 markets are state capitals and at least three others benefit from proximity to either a state capital or the national capital.

Despite recent job growth, unemployment is still high across the country, and in many markets foreclosures have turned homeowners into renters. Affordability is at a record high, but as home prices continue to fall in many markets, some buyers are staying on the sidelines waiting for the market to bottom.

Investors accounted for 21 percent of transactions in the first three months of 2011, and 33 percent of transactions during that period involved cash buyers — the highest share since NAR began tracking that statistic at the end of 2008.

By contrast, first-time homebuyers have accounted for an average 32 percent of purchases for the past two quarters, which is the lowest share since fourth-quarter 2008.

Distressed property sales including foreclosures and short sales accounted for 40 percent of existing-home sales in March, NAR said, and investors bought 54 percent of those properties, according to economic research firm Capital Economics.

Only 39 percent of investors used a mortgage to finance their purchase in 2010, compared with 80 percent of primary-home buyers, according to NAR’s 2011 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey.

The survey showed that the biggest proportion of investors bought their property through a real estate agent (44 percent). Another 20 percent bought directly from an owner they knew, and 17 percent bought through a foreclosure or trustee sale.

The most popular reason cited by investors for buying an investment property was to rent it out, followed by "to diversify investments/good investment opportunity."

The median length of time investors planned to own their purchase was 10 years. More than half of investor buyers (52 percent) said it was at least "somewhat likely" that they would buy another vacation or investment property in the next two years.

Investors tended to be more confident about the housing market than primary homebuyers: 77 percent of investors said "now is a good time to purchase real estate," compared with 68 percent of primary-home buyers.

Read the full report.

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