As Rental Market Tightens, 6 Tips To Get the Home You Want

Today's rental market continues to grow more competitive, with national vacancy rates for rental housing hitting their lowest point in 10 years in the first quarter of this year, U.S. Census Bureau data says.

"A shift from owners to renters has caused rental vacancies to keep going down even more," says Jed Kolko, chief economist of listing service Trulia, of the new shape of the market.

The rental vacancy rate dropped from 9.7 percent in first quarter 2011 to 8.8 percent in first quarter 2012, Census Bureau data shows. The drop was accompanied by a decline in the homeownership vacancy rate -- which measures the segment of the housing inventory which is vacant and for sale. It fell from 2.6 percent in first quarter of 2011 to 2.2 percent in first quarter 2012.

The fall in the rental vacancy rate highlights a continuing shift in Americans' living habits from homeownership to renting, and follows in the wake of a housing crisis that has put around 4 million Americans out of their homes, and trapped more than 10 million people under the weight of mortgages that exceed the values of their properties. Speaking to the fallout from the bursting of the real estate bubble, the new U.S. Census Bureau data also showed that the homeownership rate reached its lowest level since 1997 in the first quarter of 2012.