There are many ways to assess the trajectory of the American housing market, but two important indicators are the total number of vacant homes and the vacancy rate, which varies across the country. According to the Census Bureau, there were approximately 15.1 million vacant homes nationwide in 2022.
These vacant homes, which include rentals, represent 10.5% of the country’s total housing inventory. The number of vacant homes in the United States peaked at nearly 19 million in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis, but homeownership has recovered since that peak — the number of vacant homes in the US has declined more than 20%.
Homeownership rate refers to the proportion of all occupied homes that are owner-occupied. In the second quarter of 2023, the homeownership rate in the United States was 65.9%. Homeownership has hit historical peaks, such as 69.2% in both Q2 and Q4 2004. But it has also reached historic lows, dropping to 62.9% in Q2 2016. The current rate is close to the historical annual mean of 65.1% since its first measurement in 1960.
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Since 2008, there has been a steady decrease in the percentage of vacant renter and owner housing for rent or sale. In the second quarter of 2023, 6.3% of rentals and 0.7% of homeowner inventory were available for sale. These rates are lower than their most recent peaks in the fourth quarter of 2008 (2.9% homeowner vacancy) and the third quarter of 2009 (11.1% rental vacancy).
The Census Bureau assesses the amount of vacant homes through a quarterly supplement to its Current Population Survey called the Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS). The HVS measures both rental and homeowner vacancy rates, as well as the characteristics of housing units that are available for occupancy. The Census Bureau then creates quarterly updates about the gross vacancy rate (the percentage of all vacant housing units), the total homeownership rate, and the percentage of vacant renter and owner housing for rent or sale.
Which states have the most vacant homes?
In 2022, the states with the highest gross vacancy rates were Maine, Vermont, and Alaska. Notably, Maine has recorded the highest gross vacancy rate in the nation for 11 of the past 12 years.
National gross vacancy rates are declining. For the most part, states have demonstrated similar trends since 2009. According to an analysis by the Census Bureau, gross vacancy rates were lower in 40 states between 2009 and 2021, and no states had a statistically significant higher rate in 2021 compared to 2009.
But housing availability still depends greatly on the old adage: location, location, location.
Home vacancy rates by state
In 2022, Oregon, Nebraska, Maryland, and Utah each recorded gross vacancy rates of 7.5% or lower. But 17 states have an annual gross vacancy rate of 12.5% and over.
Of the nation’s 75 largest metropolitan statistical areas, two in Florida — Cape Coral-Fort Myers and North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota — recorded gross vacancy rates that were four times and three times higher than the average rate, respectively. The average rate for the country’s largest metropolitan statistical areas was 9.1%.
However, since gross vacancy rate is a measure of all vacant properties — including vacation properties — states with several popular tourist destinations, like Florida and Hawaii, will always register slightly higher rates. The Census Bureau notes that the largest category of vacant housing in the United States is classified as “seasonal, recreational, or occasional use.” In over one-fifth of US counties, these seasonal units made up at least 50% of the vacant housing stock.
What do these vacancy rates tell us about the housing market in general?
Taken on their own, the rates depict a tightening real estate market at both the city and state levels. Only North Dakota and Wyoming had more rental vacancies in 2022 than they did in 2009, and no state showed an increase in home vacancies. Vacancy can also be a useful tool in discussions of housingavailability — for example, in the second quarter of 2022, more than half of the US residences classified as “year-round vacant” were actively held off the market. The data can also offer additional context into national housing trends, such as regional increases in homeownership.