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19 Million Vacant Homes, Or Are They?

New data out today out today from the U.S. Census bureau suggests one out of every seven homes in the U.S. is vacant. Before you go thinking that a population the size of Beijing is suddenly homeless in America take another look at the numbers.

The Census data says nearly 19 million “housing units” are vacant. That number includes apartments, where the biggest increase in vacancy has occurred in the past year. Some 10.1% of all apartments were vacant in the fourth quarter of 2008, versus 9.6% at the end of 2007.

The big 19 million number also includes some 4.8 million second homes and vacation properties that would probably be vacant this time of year anyway. More problematic is another 7.8 million listed in the “other” category which represents foreclosures and other uninhabited dwellings.

In terms of owner-occupied homes the vacancy rate has crept up from 2.8% in 2007 to 2.9% in 2008. That is high, a percentage not seen since 1956 apparently. The average over the past decade was 1.8%. Still, it’s not a dramatic increase in the past year, nor is it the big one-in-seven homes the 19 million homes headlines suggests.

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