The number of households owning homes reached 75,076,000 in the third quarter, increasing from 74,832,000 in the second, but down from 75,251,000 a year ago, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.
However, the homeownership rate is still near historic lows. The rate in the first quarter of 2012 was 65.4 percent, the lowest since the first quarter of 1997, when the rate was also 65.4 percent. The homeownership rate peaked at 69.2 percent in the second quarter of 2004.
While the homeownership rate may have hit bottom, it may not rise very quickly in the near future if there are no houses for potential homeowners to buy. Tight inventories have plagued sales and Census confirmed that the number of housing units for sale in the third quarter was 1,476,000, down from 1,595,000 in the second quarter and 1,862,000 in third-quarter 2011-a 20 percent decline in one year. The number of housing units held off the market was 7,190,000, down from 7,612,000 in second quarter but up from 7,190,000 a year ago.
The homeownership rate for older Americans-defined as 65 and over-fell in the third quarter to 81.4 percent from 81.6 percent in the second. The homeownership rate for Americans younger than 35 fell to 36.3 percent. The 45-64 age bracket was the only group to see an increase in homeownership; the rate for that group increased 0.6 percentage points to 72 percent.
Homeownership among non-Hispanic whites rose slightly from 73.5 to 73.6 percent in the third quarter. Among blacks, homeownership rose even more, from 43.8 to 44.1 percent but was significantly lower than a year ago when the rate was 45.6 percent and was the lowest of all racial groups. Hispanics rose from 46.5 to 46.7 percent but was also lower than the third quarter of 2011, when 47.6 percent. The rate for all other races fell, from 55.0 percent in the second quarter to 54.5 percent in the third.
Homeownership fell slightly among wealthier Americans. The homeownership rate for households with family incomes greater than or equal to the median family income fell from 80.5 percent in the second quarter to 80.3 percent in the third and was lower than the third quarter 2011 rate (81.3 percent). The rate for those households with family incomes less than the median family income was also lower than the third quarter 2011 rate (51.3 percent)
The highest homeownership rate in the third quarter was in the Midwest-69.6 percent, unchanged from the second quarter. Homeownership also increased in the West (to 60.1 percent) and the Northeast (to 63.9 percent), making the South the only region to experience a decline (to 66.9 percent). The homeownership rate measures the proportion of households owning their primary residence, computed by dividing the number of households that are occupied by owners by the total number of occupied homes.