According to real estate data company RealtyTrac, just over 9 million homeowners were significantly underwater in the first quarter of this year. While that number may seem significant, and it is, it’s still much lower than previous reports. The company first began tracking negative equity in QI 2012,invest in any market when 26 percent of all properties with a loan against them had values much lower than what was owed on the home, as reported by RealtyTrac.

As of the first quarter of this year, that percentage has dropped to 19 percent. For real estate investors, that means short sale opportunities still abound in the right markets and banks should be prepared to entertain a short sale request.

Of the top 10 metropolitan statistical areas where homeowners were significantly underwater, the Chicago MSA headed the list, followed by Miami and Detroit. Property owners who need to sell but can’t have because they owe more than their home is worth are the perfect candidates for investors to approach with a short sale offer. EquityBuild is one of the top permit pullers in Chicago, actively buying and rehabilitating distressed real estate.

On the other side, there are areas where homeowner equity is at much higher levels, two of the top five areas are in Texas, Houston-Sugar Land followed by Dallas-Fort Worth. Texas has steady job growth over recent years just as most of the country was still feeling direct effects of the recession. Houston for example reported a jobless rate of 5.7 percent, a full percentage point below the national average. Houston is another area where EquityBuild is actively involved.

Real estate investing means being able to take advantage of opportunities presented in areas where the economies may be on totally opposite sides of the fence. You can invest in areas where distressed real estate is common or in areas experiencing solid growth. Investing in real estate allows investors to participate in most any economic environment.