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Today we’re releasing the new Zillow Rent Index — a one-of-a-kind way to look at rental markets nationally, regionally, and locally. And what the Zillow Rent Index (or ZRI) shows may be the silver lining in an otherwise still-declining housing market.

Median rents rose 3 percent from January 2011 to January 2012, according to the ZRI, but home values continued to fall, declining 4.6 percent in the same time period, according to the Zillow Home Value Index.

In fact, in some markets, rents rose almost as much as values fell. In the Chicago metro, the ZRI rose 9.1 percent year-over-year, while home values fell 10.4 percent during the same period. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, rents rose 11 percent and home values fell 8.1 percent.

“While it seems that rents are rising at the expense of home values, the opposite is true,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “A thriving rental market will stimulate home sales as investors snap up low-priced inventory to convert to rentals. That, in turn, will lower the number of homes on the market, which will eventually help put a floor under the values of all homes.”

Further analysis from Dr. Humphries and interactive data for this month’s report can be found on Zillow Real Estate Research.

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