What is the U.S. Vacancy Rate for Housing?

by Chicago Agent

Housing vacancies differ based on what measurements are consulted. Painting by Stephen magsig.

The Census Bureau released its latest numbers on housing vacancies yesterday for the fourth quarter, and the results were in-tune with the more recent trends in housing – a 9.4 percent vacancy rate for rentals and a 2.3 percent for housing, both 0.4 percentage points lower than 2010’s fourth quarter.

The area of dispute, though, rests with the homeownership rate, with the Bureau placed at 66.0 percent, a decline of 0.5 percentage points from 2010’s fourth quarter and a 0.3 percentage point drop from the third quarter of 2011.

As the ever-reliable Calculated Risk pointed out, the Bureau’s sample size for its quarterly vacancy report is relatively small, and as such it tends to overstate both the homeownership and vacancy rates, as least when compared to the infinitely more vast sample found in the 2010 Census.

“This report is commonly used by analysts to estimate the excess vacant supply for housing, but it doesn’t appear to be useful for that purpose,” the blog stated. “This is the most timely survey on households, but unfortunately the survey has serious issues – and sadly many analysts still use this survey to estimate the excess vacant supply.”

When consulting the 2010 Census, homeownership is more along the line of 64 to 65 percent, which would place the rate along levels seen in 1995 and 1996.

Of course, while homeownership is on the decline, rental vacancies are also on the decline, as more and more homeowners transition to the rental market. The Reis quarterly survey, a measure of rental vacancies Calculated Risk referenced, has the vacancy rate at its lowest level since 2001.

Interestingly, Calculated Risk also pointed out that the Census Bureau researchers are considering a reconciliation of the 2010 Census and its quarterly housing estimates, though no formal date has been set for any decisions.

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