NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The U.S. economy has been pitching and rolling in turbulent financial waters over the past few years, but one area where indisputable progress is being made is in the residential real estate market.

Case in point - Savills's most recent World Residential Market report notes that, based on a formula of "broad economic and demographic factors," the U.S. is a "clear number one" country for investing in real estate.

Of course, the U.S. is a big country, and success for real estate seekers depends on where they plant their financial flags. "There is a world of difference within the U.S.A. between top tech cities and languishing rustbelt ones," says Yolande Barnes, director of world research at Savills. Savills says technology-rich San Francisco is "among the very best of their selected residential markets."

Following in second place globally is the United Arab Emirates, with Singapore and the United Kingdom close behind.

How can real estate investors, especially newer ones, take advantage of an opportunistic U.S. real estate climate? An insider's knowledge of real estate is a great place to start.

"The first step for real estate investors is to know the market and area and find an experienced professional realtor that knows the market area," says Bruce Ailion, a real estate broker and attorney based in Atlanta, Ga. "Buy the best location, and find the home that is correctly sited on the lot. Stay away from busy streets, commercial structures and nasty externalities."

Newbie investors can also make good money buying homes in terrible condition with conditions that can easily be fixed, Ailion says. "But note there are homes with bad features or conditions that cannot be fixed or easily fixed," he adds. "So use quality materials and do a quality job, while being careful to not over improve based on the market."

Another expert tip for first time investors is to always treat each opportunity as an investment first and a property second, says Courtney Casburn Brett, founder of Casburnbrett, a Daphne, Ala.-based architect firm. "The best investment decisions are made purely by the numbers - the rate of return after careful consideration of the cost of acquisition, long-term fees and maintenance; the cost of financing; and expected percentage occupancy, or time spent on the market for a flip," she explains. "First time investors can get in hot water quickly when they see it as a property first and an investment second - accepting a lower rate of return after becoming emotionally attached or falling for a steal that is listed for well below market value."

Novice investors need to understand the impact of leverage on real estate investments and understand the different types of real estate and the risk profile, notes Robert Martorana, a portfolio manager at Hillsborough, N.J.-based Right Blend Investing.

"Undeveloped land is the highest risk and highest reward," he says. "And commercial REITs can be a good investment, but the profile of the properties will determine the outlook such as apartments, stable commercial and industrial, etc. But if investors are buying income properties to serve as landlords, it's best if they are on-site or live locally."

Now is a good time to be a buyer in the U.S. residential real estate investment market. But be smart about it, do your due diligence, and always focus on real estate as an investment, and not as just a property. Do those things, and you up your chances of making good cash in a booming housing market.

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