What are we to believe from the housing market numbers?

If you’re confused by many of the economic signals being sent these days, you’re not alone. Take the housing market:

United States homeownership hit a record high in 2004. This was around the time President George W. Bush was celebrating the nation’s emerging “Ownership Society” – a philosophy that, in practice, was partly responsible for creating the housing bubble. 

Today, as everyone knows, the story is quite different, as is the trajectory of home ownership.

On the scary side, according to the Census Bureau, U.S. homeownership rates have fallen to around 65.4 percent, after languishing at 66 percent for the past three quarters. The current rate matches the average rate held since 1965. That translates into the homeownership rate dropping to a 15-year low.

On the bright-ish side, there are an estimated 132.6 million homes in the United States, of which nearly 14 percent (or 18.5 million) were vacant during the first quarter – down from last year’s 19 million..

The apartment vacancy rate also fell to 4.9 percent in the first quarter — an 11-year low.

Then again, with historically low interest rates available and low prices creating a strong first-time buyer’s market, shouldn’t houses be moving? According to experts, those most open to buying – rather than moving or renting — in this stormy market are having trouble accessing new mortgages. 

For those who want to sell? Well, Robert Shiller, co-creator the widely used Case-Shiller home price index, explains that housing prices have most likely hit bottom.

The bad news: Shiller told Reuters recently that he believes home values lost in the past five years would not be made up in our “lifetimes.”