13% of Homes Are Empty, Census Says

Of all U.S. homes, 13 percent stand vacant, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

“More vacant homes equal more downward pressure on home prices,” says Brad Hunter, chief economist for Metrostudy, a real estate information provider.

But there are a few surprises on the census’ list of most empty states. Here are the states with the highest proportion of empty housing, according to census data:

1. Maine: 22.8 percent
2. Vermont: 20.5 percent
3. Florida: 17.5 percent
4. Arizona: 16.3 percent
5. Alaska: 15.9 percent

The U.S. Census includes empty properties such as ski lodges, beach houses, and pied-à-terres when configuring its vacancy rate — properties that most other real estate statisticians would not include in their data.

While these are often summer homes or second homes, the census groups them with homes that have been sold but not occupied, empty homes for sale or rent, and homes used by migrant workers.

“You can only live in one home,” William Chapin of the Census Bureau’s Housing Statistics Branch told CNNMoney. “If you own five homes that you occasionally live in, four of them will be counted as vacant.”

Paul Bishop, the vice president for research for the National Association of REALTORS®, told CNNMoney that these properties aren’t vacant in the usual sense.

“A vacation home is hardly the same situation as a foreclosed home that has been taken back by the bank,” he says.

In Maine, for example, more than two-thirds of the 160,000 vacancies were vacation homes in 2009. Vermont had a similar number.

Source: “13% of All U.S. Homes Are Vacant,” CNNMoney.com (March 28, 2011)

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