A new national "risk list" could help guide real estate investors -- not only those looking to scoop up distressed property through short sales or pre-foreclosure deals with lenders -- but those looking for the safest places to stash their real estate dollars.

PMI Group's quarterly risk list, released earlier this week, rates the relative riskiness of owning or buying property in dozens of major markets around the country. PMI, which is one of the largest private mortgage insurance companies, uses the ratings in its own risk underwriting on home loans.

The safest markets in the country right now -- where there is less than a one percent chance of price declines in the coming 24 months, according to PMI's risk index? Well, the Lone Star state has more of them than any other: Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio are all rated in the top ten for "safe bets." Not only is Texas's economy growing, and its residential real estate prices moderate, but it never even caught a whiff of all that crazy stuff that was going on during the boom years of 2002 through 2005.

Three other market areas with less than one percent chances of devaluation: Charlotte, North Carolina, Kansas City, Missouri, and believe it or not, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All three are seeing moderate inflation in housing values, solid economic activity, and good prospects for more of the same -- at least during the next two years. And of course, they too never got caught up in the boom.

Now to the flip side of the index: Places where prices are highly likely to decline during the next two years, even if they've already taken a beating since 2006. No surprise that all top ten riskiest markets were the highest flyers during the boom -- and they're all located in just four states: California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

Only one metropolitan area is rated above a 90 percent chance of devaluation during the next 24 months, and that's Riverside-Bernadino, California, at 94 percent. But Las Vegas is a close second with an 89 percent chance, followed by Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona at 83 percent. Los Angeles at 79 percent and Fort Lauderdale at 78 percent round out the riskiest in the nation.

So what do you do with rankings like these? If you are an active investor, waiting for the proverbial "blood running in the streets" -- great opportunities to acquire distressed real estate at rock bottom prices -- focus your attention on PMI's riskiest places. Sellers there may be motivated right now, but the survey suggests they will be even more so during the coming 24 months.

On the other hand, if you're a more conservative investor, looking for solid, cash-flowing markets with almost no downside to them, focus on places that are rated least at risk for negative growth.

Which ever is your investing style, you've got to find something of interest at one end -- or the other -- of the real estate risk spectrum.

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