A recent analysis from John Burns Real Estate Consulting suggests that investors may be the biggest driving force in the housing recovery.
In a report from the company, senior research analyst Erik Franks noted that investors are buying homes at an increased pace and at prices that allow for a reasonable rental return.
""Investors are buying homes at a more rapid pace than ever before, and this time their investments actually make sense,"" Franks wrote.
Across the 167 metro areas analyzed by the company, investor activity as a share of all transactions rose to 29.6 percent in the first quarter of 2012, up from a low of 23.6 percent in the last quarter of 2009. Furthermore, the company's ""on the ground"" research leads analysts to believe this year's second-quarter activity exceeded the first quarter's, with investor activity spiking 2 percent.
Investor activity has returned to Stockton, Miami, Las Vegas, Riverside-San Bernardino, Sacramento, and Phoenix, all areas investors were previously reluctant to enter after their old investments crashed. According to the report, some markets are now ""completely dominated"" by investors, such as Las Vegas (where investor activity makes up 50 percent of total activity) and Phoenix (46 percent).
Investors also seem to be attracted to small markets-particularly those in inland California, the report notes. Second home buyers are also making their way into smaller markets, leading to large activity increases in Naples, The Villages, Tucson, and Panama City.
While Franks conceded that these signs of increased investor interest may point to a false recovery, he said John Burns Real Estate Consulting is not concerned and welcomes the return of private capital.
""Most of these investors are paying all cash and buying homes below replacement cost,"" Franks wrote. ""They are helping the market recover by removing supply at the low end of the market and driving real buyers to higher price points, including new homes.""
Franks also wrote that the company doesn't foresee a scenario in which investors dump their stock on the market unless it's clear prices are dropping again. For now, Franks said he and his colleagues feel comfortable for the near future.
""We are hyper-focused on the potential positive result, which is that rising prices get fence-sitting consumers off the fence. We are seeing this occur in some pockets around the country.""