Small, local investors who earn less than $100,000 a year are playing a major role in the housing recovery by acquiring distressed REO properties, fixing them up and renting them out to future buyers. At least that's the trend Econohomes -- an Austin-based online source for wholesale investment properties -- noticed in the market. The firm released its "2010-2011 Real Estate Investor Report" this week, which shows local investors diving into the market on a part-time basis and acquiring homes with the intent of revitalizing the surrounding neighborhoods. "This new research shows a growing grassroots movement of new, part-time, local investors acquiring, rehabilitating, renting, and reselling the tens of thousands of distressed REO properties in the market," said Jeff Ball, president of Econohomes. "These investors are vital to stabilizing the residential real estate market, and Econohomes is extremely proud to be a key part of the solution." About 57% of the investors are renting out the properties after making repairs. Many intend to rent until buyers return to the market. The average age of this investor group is 36 to 55. They are generally self-employed or work part-time, making less than $100,000 in annual income. Many have a local interest in restoring struggling neighborhoods, with a significant segment acquiring properties near their homes. Write to Kerri Panchuk.