What’s happening in national real estate news? Unfortunately, not much. The U.S. homeownership rate fell to the lowest level in 15 years in the first quarter as borrowers lost homes to foreclosure and tighter inventory and credit kept buyers off the market. The rate dropped to 65% from 66% in the fourth quarter of 2011 and fell a full percentage point from a year earlier, the Census Bureau said in a report today. 65% home ownership is the lowest level since the first quarter of 1997, and down from a record 69% in June 2004.

This is disappointing, as the ability to purchase real estate and/or qualify for a home loan may be indicative of the economy’s overall health. Experts believe that the homeownership rate probably will settle around 64%, where it stood from about 1965 to the mid-1980s, because credit conditions are similar to that era.

Despite the decreasing homeownership rates, home prices are setting recent records for affordability, according to the National Association of Realtors. At the same time, mounting foreclosures are displacing borrowers and stricter mortgage standards are also limiting purchases as rental demand surges. Although house prices and mortgage rates have fallen to a level that makes buying preferable to renting, ongoing problems accessing mortgage credit are preventing many households from taking advantage.

Experts also believe that homeownership may fall further and repossessions may increase this year as lenders step up foreclosures after a $25 billion agreement by the nation’s largest loan servicers in February to settle allegations of improper practices. Foreclosure filings fell to the lowest since 2007 in the first quarter as banks slowed actions before the settlement, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

So the upside? If you can qualify for a home loan or are interested in purchasing investment properties in Orange County, California, now is the time!

For more Orange County real estate news and happenings, follow Cheryl on Twitter @CherylSellsOC or check her on Facebook at CherylSellsOrangeCounty.

Cheryl Marquis has been an active and successful real estate agent in South Orange County, California for more than 25 years. As a TOP PRODUCER in her company, Cheryl has received the specific accreditation of a Certified Relocation Specialist (CRS) and Accredited Buyers Agent (ABR) and is a member of the Who’s Who of Luxury Real Estate, a select network of the world’s leading luxury home agents. Cheryl is a member of C.A.R. (California Association of Realtors), N.A.R. (National Association of Realtors) and O.C.A.R. (Orange County Association of Realtors). To talk to Cheryl about buying or selling a home in Orange County, call her at 949.683.1501 or visit her online at www.CherylSellsOC.com.