The share of privately owned U.S. homes fell to a 15-year low in the first quarter, government data showed on Monday, suggesting that falling house prices are discouraging Americans from being homeowners.
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The home ownership rate slipped to 65.4 percent, the lowest since the first quarter of 1997, the Commerce Department said. The rate was at 66.0 percent in the fourth quarter.
Homeownership was lowest in the West, while higher rates were reported in the Midwest.
House prices have dropped about 32 percent from their peak at the end of 2005, leaving millions of Americans with houses worth far less than their mortgages and pushing many into renting.
In the first quarter, the median asking sales price for vacant homes on the market was $133,700, the lowest since the first quarter of 2005, the Commerce Department said. That compared with $133,800 in the fourth quarter.
The data showed the residential rental vacancy rate dropped to 8.8 percent in the first three months of this year from 9.4 percent in the fourth quarter.
Growing demand for rentals is boosting rents, with the median asking rent for an unoccupied property in the first quarter at $721, the highest since the first quarter of 2009. That compared with $712 in the fourth quarter.
Stronger demand for rental apartments is helping to stabilize the housing market as builders break more ground on multifamily housing projects. Residential construction in the first quarter grew at the fastest pace in nearly two years and is expected to contribute to growth this year for the first time since 2005.
The share of empty privately owned house dipped to 2.2 percent from 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter. The homeowner vacancy rate was higher in the South, one of the regions hardest hit by foreclosures.