Homeownership rate lowest since 1998
Almost 11% of all housing units are vacant all year round and the homeownership rate in America is at the lowest rate in 12 years, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau. Homeownership fell to 66.5% in the fourth quarter from 67.2% a year earlier and 66.9% for the third quarter. The rate hasn't been this low since the fourth quarter of 1998. The Census Bureau said fourth-quarter vacancy rates slid to 9.4% for rental properties from 10.7% a year earlier and 10.3% for the prior quarter. The homeowner vacancy rate of 2.7% was flat with a year earlier and up from 2.5% in the third quarter. Almost 86% of all U.S. housing units were occupied in the fourth quarter with 57.2% occupied by the owner and renters living in 28.8% of the occupied units. The number of units held off the market rose nearly 7% to 7,236 in the quarter. The houses account for 5.5% of all vacant properties and are off the market because of occasional use, temporarily occupied by someone who lives elsewhere, or a variety of other reasons, according to the Census Bureau. Still there are signs that rates of homeownership may be on the cusp of a small rebound. Mark Rogers, senior U.S. economist at Econoday, said there is promise in the latest statistics on home sales. New home sales were stronger than expected in December, jumping 18% to an annual unit rate of 329,000. In turn, months’ supply came down to 6.9 from 8.4 months in November, said the economics data firm in a note to clients this morning. "The monthly number for December new home sales looks really good — but that is primarily because the November figure was so anemic," Rogers said. "Still, good news is good news. The buyer rush is likely tied to December's jump in mortgage rates which encouraged potential homebuyers to quit sitting on the fence and commit to a purchase." Write to Jason Philyaw.