The share of U.S. homes privately owned but empty in the first
quarter of 2009 fell to levels last seen in mid-2007, a government
report on Monday showed in a positive sign for the listless housing

The vacancy rate in the first quarter fell to 2.7 percent from 2.9
percent in the last quarter of 2008, the Commerce Department reported.

High vacancies point to weakness in the homes sector, with an
elevated vacancy rate indicating that many homeowners have moved out of
their primary residence even before it was sold.

The rate has not been as low as 2.7 percent since the third quarter
of 2007. It had climbed from 1.5 percent in 2001 to a record 2.9
percent in early 2008 and has since leveled off.

Typically homeowners do not leave a property empty, but many have no
choice as prices are declining, buyers are few and they must change
locations or cannot maintain the home for any other reason.