U.S. Home Vacancies Fell in 4th Quarter From Prior Year

U.S. residential vacancy rates declined in the fourth quarter as housing demand improved amid job gains, the Census Bureau reported.

The rate for rented homes dropped to 8.7 percent from 9.4 percent a year earlier, while vacancies for owner-occupied houses fell to 1.9 percent from 2.3 percent. The share of Americans who own their homes was 65.4 percent, matching the lowest level since 1997.

The pace of U.S. household formation is accelerating as employment improves. Housing starts jumped last year to the fastest rate since 2008 as builders worked to meet growing demand from buyers seeking to take advantage of low interest rates and from renters who can’t afford to buy or don’t want to own a residence, Commerce Department data showed on Jan. 17.

“The tight vacancy comes from having relatively little construction in the past few years,” Jed Kolko, chief economist of San Francisco-based Trulia Inc., which operates an online property-listing service, said in a telephone interview. “And one effect of the improving job market is the increase in household formation, which means that more people are setting out and forming their own households rather than doubling up with parents and roommates. That’s another sign of recovery.”

Payrolls in the U.S. rose by 155,000 workers in December following a 161,000 advance the previous month, Labor Department figures showed. The unemployment rate held at 7.8 percent, matching the lowest since January 2009.

The number of occupied homes increased to 115 million in the fourth quarter from an estimated 114.1 million a year earlier, according to the Census Bureau.

The homeownership rate dropped from 66 percent a year earlier and 65.5 percent in the third quarter. It matched the 65.4 percent rate from the first quarter of 2012, the lowest since 1997. The rate peaked at 69.2 percent in July 2004, spurred by easy credit.

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