More than 18.7 million residential properties stood empty in the US during the second quarter of this year as the steepest recession in 50 years sapped demand for real estate and banks seized properties from delinquent borrowers.
But the latest figures from the US Census Bureau are a boost for those in the real estate industry who claim that a recovery is underway.
They show that the number of vacant properties, including foreclosures, residences for sale and vacation homes, was up only slightly from 8.6 million a year earlier and that property values have fallen 33% since 2006.
The percentage of all US homes empty and for sale, known as the vacancy rate, fell to 2.5% in the quarter compared with a high of 2.9% in the first and fourth quarters of 2008.
It said that the vacancy rate fell slightly as the number of homes on the market declined because they were sold or because their owners gave up trying to market them. The inventory of homes on the market averaged 3.8 million in each of 2009’s first six months, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Last year, the monthly average was 4.2 million.
The vacancy rate was the lowest in the northeast at 2% and the highest in the south at 2.7%, according to the report.
In addition to the 1.9 million empty properties for sale, the report counted 4.4 million vacant homes for rent and 4.6 million seasonal properties that are only used for part of the year.
But there was a slight increase in the number of empty properties that were due to foreclosure – 7.8 million, up from 7.7 million a year earlier, the report said.
So although overall the figures look positive there are underlying signs that a strong recovery is unlikely. Experts point out that companies have shed about 6.5 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, cutting demand for homes.
Also one in every eight US households with a mortgage is now late on their payments or already in foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.