Posted on Jan 30, 2013 12:37 PM EST

Home Ownership Dips to 16 Year Low: Census Bureau

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Boston’s Once Most Expensive Home returns to the Market Asking $14.5 Million. (Photo : Reuters)

The home ownership rate in 2012 fell to 65.4 percent, the lowest it's been since 1996, according to the Census Bureau.

The nation's homeownership rate has been declining since it peaked at 69.2 percent in 2004. The rate fell 0.9 percent from 2011.

The residential rental vacancy rate ticked up to 8.7 percent from 8.6 percent in the third quarter. It peaked at 11.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009.

Owner-occupied housing units made up 56.6 percent of total housing units, while renter-occupied units made up 30.0 percent of the inventory in the fourth quarter of 2012.

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"The fact that the housing recovery is being driven principally by investor demand means that the slight decline in the homeownership rate in the fourth quarter is unlikely to be the last," wrote economist Paul Diggle of Capital Economics in a research note Tuesday.

Tuesday's report also showed that the rental vacancy rate was down 0.9 percentage points between the fourth quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2012. Tight supply has meant that apartment rents continued to rise nationwide through the end of the fourth quarter. As a result, the Census Bureau said the median asking rent for vacant rental units rose during the quarter, totaling $724.

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