Fundamentals in the retail real estate sector continued to improve in the first quarter of 2012, according to preliminary analysis from Reis Inc., a New York City-based research firm.

Reis reports that the vacancy rate for neighborhood and community shopping centers nationwide fell 10 basis points since the fourth quarter of 2011, to 10.9 percent. The decline was due to the absorption of 2.961 million sq. ft. of retail space, marking the third consecutive quarter of positive net absorption in the neighborhood and community shopping center sub-sector. What’s more, asking rents at neighborhood and community shopping centers rose 0.1 percent quarter-over-quarter, to $19.05 per sq. ft. Effective rents also posted a 0.1 percent increase, at $16.57 per sq. ft.

Regional mall fundamentals were solid as well, with a 20 basis points quarter-over-quarter decrease in vacancy, to 9.0 percent. Asking rents in the sub-sector rose 0.1 percent, to $39 per sq. ft.

All these numbers point to a slow and steady recovery in the retail space, according to Reis researchers. However, the sector is not completely out of the woods just yet, given the recently announced store closings by Best Buy and some other chains.

“Until the economy and labor market are on more solid footing, expect improvement across retail subtypes to be inconsistent. The tide of the economy is not rising quickly enough to raise all of the ships in the ocean of retail,” Reis’ summary of its first quarter report says.