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Fewer vacant homes in U.S., new report says

The housing boom has helped remove significant blight from its post-recession peak

Two abandoned, boarded up homes on a street in Gary, Indiana.
Abandoned property in Gary, Indiana, an area hard-hit by the problem of vacant property and blight.

Vacant properties have long been a drain on cities across the U.S., bringing down tax revenues and local property values. But a new report by real estate consultancy ATTOM Data Solutions finds that the number of vacant properties nationwide, while still a serious issue, continues to shrink since its peak after the Great Recession.

The company’s Q3 2019 Vacant Property and Zombie Foreclosure Report, which looks at properties that have been abandoned by their previous owners, found that roughly 1,530,563 U.S. single-family homes and condos stood vacant in the third quarter of 2019, representing 1.6 percent of all homes. More than 304,000 homes were in the process of foreclosure during the third quarter of 2019, roughly 22 percent less than at the same time in 2016.

Cities with the highest vacant property rate in the U.S. in 2019

Metro area Q3 2019 Vacant Properties Vacancy Rate Q3 2019 Vacant Investment Properties Investment Property Vacancy Rate
Metro area Q3 2019 Vacant Properties Vacancy Rate Q3 2019 Vacant Investment Properties Investment Property Vacancy Rate
Flint, MI 9,688 6.4% 8,463 23.4%
Montgomery, AL 4,077 3.9% 3,092 10.2%
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 7,232 3.7% 4,629 10.2%
Mobile, AL 5,521 3.7% 4,645 8.5%
Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC 7,750 3.5% 7,200 6.3%
Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX 4,285 3.4% 3,261 8.5%
Dayton, OH 8,879 3.2% 6,271 9.2%
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 47,172 3.2% 34,330 10.2%
Peoria, IL 4,108 3.1% 2,852 10.2%
Jackson, MS 5,583 3.0% 4,123 7.9%
Toledo, OH 6,100 3.0% 4,093 7.5%
Wichita, KS 6,476 3.0% 5,354 7.1%
Evansville, IN-KY 3,025 2.9% 2,397 11.1%
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 11,011 2.9% 8,510 8.6%
ATTOM Data Solutions

“The blight of vacant, decaying properties facing foreclosure has declined dramatically across the United States, another good-news offshoot of the housing boom that’s gone on for eight years,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM Data Solutions. “A handful of areas still face notable problems with homes abandoned by owners after they get hit with foreclosure claims. But with the economy improving and the housing market still hot, an expanding number of neighborhoods across the country face little or no problem with these so-called zombie properties.”

Formerly industrial cities in the Midwest have been hit hard by vacancies, but there, too, the situation is starting to improve. Detroit, Teta said, has had success with revitalization through institutions such as the Detroit Land Bank. The number of vacancies in Detroit is down 27 percent in just the last year.

“The change, on a nationwide level, is largely driven by the fact that the market has stabilized, there’s a little bit more equity there,” Teta says. “There are more buyers for homes, even when something goes through foreclosure, there’s somebody on the other end to buy it.”

Zombie vacancies have decreased across the U.S.

Metro area Homes in foreclosure in Q3 2013 Percent vacated Homes in foreclosure Q3 2019 Percent vacated
Metro area Homes in foreclosure in Q3 2013 Percent vacated Homes in foreclosure Q3 2019 Percent vacated
South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI 373 19.8% 111 4.5%
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA 48 16.7% 48 4.2%
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 2608 16.3% 882 8.4%
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 53 15.1% 210 1.4%
Ocala, FL 4621 14.5% 688 1.2%
Knoxville, TN 289 13.5% 136 1.5%
Roanoke, VA 282 13.5% 121 0.8%
Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL 3868 12.3% 930 3.3%
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 773 12.2% 732 6.3%
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 596 11.6% 378 1.3%
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 8396 11.2% 1034 5.0%
Port St. Lucie, FL 4002 11.0% 448 5.6%
Dayton, OH 2099 10.9% 1160 4.8%
Fort Wayne, IN 1524 10.4% 197 5.6%
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 760 10.3% 301 3.7%
Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL 2759 9.9% 583 4.5%
Tucson, AZ 1529 9.6% 475 4.8%
Cleveland-Elyria, OH 13233 9.5% 5501 7.8%
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 6338 9.5% 2548 6.7%
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 630 9.0% 242 2.1%
ATTOM Data Solutions

The improvement in vacant property is good news because the problem of abandoned property—or what scholar Alan Mallach calls “hyper-vacancy”—is usually concentrated in areas that are losing jobs, investment, and economic opportunity. These empty and unproductive properties lead to decreased tax revenue, greater maintenance costs, increased safety and crime issues (which require more spending), and blight that lowers the value of nearby properties. Mallach told Curbed earlier this year that the issue had reached “epidemic” proportions.

While many cities, such as Baltimore, still have a significant number of vacant properties and lots that need investment and attention, Teta believes the positive trend outlined in the report will continue, and the total number of vacancies will continue to shrink.

“Stable home prices are a big reason for this shift,” he says. “We think on a national basis they’re going to decline.”