More than forty percent of Georgia homeowners with mortgages owe more money than their houses are worth, according to new data. But at the same time, real estate companies are beginning to buy up properties in Georgia as investments.

The data from shows that in some Georgia counties, as many as 80 percent of homeowners are underwater. That’s the term for the phenomenon.

The problem, prevalent in Atlanta, Savannah and Macon, affects not only homeowners looking to sell but also those who want to refinance.

Svenja Gudell with says the recovery is lagging in Georgia. Indeed, in some areas 50 percent of homeowners are selling their properties for a loss.

“A lot of places in California are seeing anywhere 8 percent to 15 percent appreciation on an annual basis and Atlanta is seeing 4 percent," she said. "So they’re making up for the big fall much more rapidly than Atlanta so it lets them rise out of negative equity much faster than Atlanta or Georgia as a whole for that matter.”

Nonetheless, real estate companies such as Silver Bay of Minnetonka, Minn, say Georgia has an oversupply of cheap homes. Silver Bay is buying properties here to rent.

That’s because they’re finding an oversupply of affordable homes that can be offered as rentals.

Emory University economist Tom Smith says many people lost their jobs because of the recession and need to rent.

“There are also people who have filed for bankruptcy, there are also people getting in other kinds of trouble," he said. "And because of the recession, their credit has taken a beating, and even though they may have enough income to buy a house, their credit rating isn’t allowing them to do that.”

Smith says for many homeowners who don't plan to sell, the problem is a non-issue.

And homeowners in Georgia may be able to make up the negative equity with a loan. Dan Immergluck with Georgia Tech says the Zillow data doesn't take into consideration the depth of the negative equity. He says in other areas of the nation such as California, homes may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars less than the owners paid.

Experts say Georgia’s housing market is slowly improving, but won’t fully recover for several years.

Tags: housing, real estate, mortgages, negative equity, homes underwater