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Fewer rentals, steady rents

By Holden Lewis ·
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Posted: 12 pm ET

Prospective renters found fewer places available for rent in the third quarter. Yet monthly rents barely changed.

That's according to the Census Bureau's quarterly report on housing vacancies and homeownership.

The rental vacancy rate in the third quarter of this year was 8.6 percent, down from 9.8 percent in the same period in 2011. Now, with fewer vacancies, I would have expected rents to rise. Less supply, higher prices. But did that happen? It depends on how you look at the data.

In the third quarter of this year, half of all rental units went for more than $706 a month. That's the median rent. During the same period last year, the median rent was $700. But if you take inflation into account, the median rent a year ago was the equivalent of $712.

Bottom line: Rents went up or down less than 1 percent in a year (basically, unchanged), even though the rental vacancy rate went down significantly.

The homeownership rate fell, too. In the third quarter of this year, the homeownership rate dropped to 65.5 percent, down from 66.3 percent a year earlier. The homeownership rate is at its lowest since 1995.

When you look at the numbers, it seems that the decline in the homeownership rate translates directly into the decline in the rental vacancy rate. About two-thirds of dwellings are owner-occupied.

Do you believe the numbers are accurate -- that rents haven't gone up?

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