The home ownership rate took a slight turn downward in the first quarter, bringing it closer to a near 50-year low set in 2015, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Unadjusted for seasonality, the rate declined to 63.5%, 0.2 percentage points lower than the first-quarter 2015 rate (63.7 percent) and 0.3 percentage points lower than the fourth quarter 2015 rate (63.8%). The rate peaked at 69.2% in the fourth quarter of 2004.

The department cautioned against reading too much into the number, stating, "When adjusted for seasonal variation, the first quarter 2016 home ownership rate was not statistically different from the rate in the first quarter 2015 or the rate in the fourth quarter 2015."

Vacancy rates declined in the quarter, the department said. The national vacancy rates were 7.0% for rental housing and 1.7% for homeowner housing, with the rental rate down 0.1 percentage point from the rate in the first quarter 2015 and virtually unchanged from the rate in the fourth quarter 2015 and the homeowner rate 0.2 percentage points lower than first quarter 2015 and 0.2 percentage points below the rate in the fourth quarter 2015.

The median asking rent rose to $870 per month from $850 in the previous quarter and $799 a year earlier.