By Diana Olick, CNBC Real Estate Reporter NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- The supply of empty homes for rent is falling, and the nation's homeownership rate is hovering near a fifteen year low. How can that be when the housing market is finally turning around and more homes are selling? The answer is simple: Investors. The nation's home ownership rate ticked up a statistically insignificant basis point, from 65.5% in the first quarter of this year to 65.6% in the second quarter, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Q1 was the lowest home ownership rate since 1997 and is down from the peak of 69.4% in 2004. Given that home sales improved significantly during the first half of this year, you would think that home ownership rate should have surged higher, but the rate is calculated using only owner-occupied homes. If an investor buys one home or 100 homes, those homes are not even put into the calculation because they owner doesn't live in the homes. Realtors estimate around 20% of homes sales are currently to investors, but given bulk deals offered by the government and banks on foreclosed properties, that percentage is likely higher.
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An investor-driven recovery in home sales is certainly positive and is helping to clear the huge backlog of distressed properties on the low end; investors are necessary now, but until real owner-occupants, including the all-important first-time home buyer, return, a robust recovery in all price tiers of the market will remain out of reach. --Written by Diana Olick at CNBC