The homeownership rate in the U.S. rose for a second straight quarter as job growth and loosening credit put an end to almost two years of steady declines.

The share of Americans who own their homes was 63.8 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 63.7 percent in the previous three months, the Census Bureau reported Thursday. The increase followed one in the third quarter after a string of declines that started in late 2013.

Buoyed by the improving U.S. employment rate, renters are jumping back into homeownership. Sales of existing homes jumped 14.7 percent, the most on record, in December, with first-time buyers accounting for 32 percent of purchases, matching the highest share since August, according to the National Association of Realtors.

“The homeownership rate has found a floor,” Matthew Pointon, U.S. property economist for Capital Economics Ltd., said in a phone interview. “We expect it to rise very gradually over the next few years. ”

The rate, while up from a 48-year low in the second quarter, remains below the peak of 69.2 percent reached in June 2004.