Both the U.S. homeownership rate and residential vacancy rate slipped lower in the 12 months ended in the fourth quarter of 2012 as a growing number of households shifted to rentals, though that shift slowed in the fourth quarter, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. 

The national vacancy rate among rental units stood at 8.7% during the quarter, a gain of 0.1 percentage points from the previous quarter and a drop of 0.7 percentage points year-over-year. Among homeowner housing, 1.9% stood vacant, virtually unchanged from the previous quarter and down 0.4 percentage points year-over-year.

Compared with the fourth quarter of 2011, by the end of last year, the number of occupied rental housing units had grown by more than a million, while the number of owner-occupied units fell by 106,000. 

The country’s homeownership rate stood at 65.4% during the quarter, compared with 65.5% during the third quarter and 66.0% during the fourth quarter of 2011. However, once seasonal factors are taken into account, the homeownership rate stayed stationary at 65.3% from the third to the fourth quarter.

The rising demand for rental properties was reflected in pricing, as the median asking rent moved up to $724, the highest level on record (data start in 1988). 

The median asking sales price among U.S. homes also made headway during the quarter, with an improvement to $137,700, the highest number seen in five quarters.

See the Census Bureau’s full report on residential vacancies and homeownership in the fourth quarter 2012.

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.