Home vacancies in Maryland, Virginia around 10%; not a red flag

Even in this tight housing market, there were 16 million homes in the U.S. classified as “vacant” in 2020, the most recent year for available data.

Some are so-called “zombie foreclosures,” houses sitting empty and waiting for the bank to sell them, and some are dilapidated or rundown homes that may be waiting for a buyer or a bulldozer. And those are a potential red flags of an unhealthy neighborhood or housing market.

The vacancy rate in Maryland was 9.4%, and the vacancy rate was Virginia is 10.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data. Both are below the national average, and indicate low distress levels and owners who are full-time residents.

Homes can be vacant for many other reasons. At the time of the survey, they were perhaps in rehab to be resold, or they were second homes not occupied full time by owners, and so vacancy rates are not necessarily a sign of market distress. In fact, it could be just the opposite.

Like everything in the current housing market, there are nuances.

“If you’re looking at an area that has really low home prices, but a really high vacancy rate, what that might tell us is that there is something about that area that is just not attractive to homebuyers. On the flip side, you can look at an area that has a really high vacancy rate, but really high home prices, and you could conclude that it is just a really popular vacation destination,” said Jacob Channel, senior economist at LendingTree.

Vacancy rates are the highest in southern states, and in New England.

“In New England, they are homes that are in good shape, but for whatever reason, their owner doesn’t want to use them the majority of time time. Winters can be brutal in New England. You also have a lot of people who live, like in New York City where they work full time, but want a place to escape,” Channel said.

“The South is more the opposite. Poverty rates are higher in the South. Income levels are maybe lower in the South. So there might be more homes that are foreclosed upon.”

The vacancy rate in Vermont is 22.9%, and in Maine it is 22.7%. In Alabama the vacancy rate is 17.7%, and in Mississippi, it is 16.3%.

LendingTree’s list of states with the highest and lowest home vacancy rate, and its conclusions about what that does, and does not mean for individual markets, is online.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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