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This is why your rent is higher

By Holden Lewis ·
Monday, April 30, 2012
Posted: 11 am ET

Landlords are asking for higher rents, and why not? Fewer rentals are vacant.

The national rental vacancy rate fell to 8.8 percent in the first three months of this year, down from 9.7 percent in the first quarter of 2011, according to the Census' quarterly housing vacancy survey. The national median asking rent shot up over the same year to $721, compared to $683 a year earlier. That 5.5 percent annual increase in rent is much higher than the overall inflation rate.

Highest rents were in the Northeast, with a median asking rent of $932. The median means that half of the dwellings had a higher monthly rental price. The next-priciest region was the West, with a median asking rental of $855, followed by the South at $660, and the Midwest at $607.

I've been reading about the tight rental market in New York City, but apparently things are easing elsewhere in the Northeast. The rental vacancy rate in the northeast rose to 7.8 percent in the first quarter, from 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

The Census tracks asking prices on homes for sale, too. Prices continued to fall. Nationally, the median asking price was $133,700 in the first quarter of this year, down 7.5 percent from $143,700 a year earlier. Of the four census regions, the South fared worst: an 11.6 percent reduction in the median asking price to $126,000 from $140,600 a year earlier.

Of all the dwellings in the United States -- rentals and otherwise -- 86.1 percent were occupied in the first quarter of this year. The homeownership rate decreased to 65.4 percent, compared to 66.4 percent a year earlier. This is the lowest homeownership rate since the first quarter of 1997, when it was also 65.4 percent.

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