Despite multi-billion dollar buying sprees by hedge funds, real estate investors purchased fewer properties in 2012 than they did the previous year.

For instance, investment-home sales declined 2.1% to 1.21 million from 1.23 million in 2011, according to an annual survey by the National Association of Realtors.

"Investors have been very active in the market over the past two years, attracted mostly by discounted foreclosures that could be quickly turned into profitable rentals," said NAR’s Lawrence Yun. "With rising prices and limited inventory, notably in the low price ranges, investors are likely to step back in coming years."