Amid brightening hopes that the U.S. housing market is stabilizing, some economists are zeroing in on a piece of data that could augur badly for the consensus view: the homeowner vacancy rate.
That figure, an often-overlooked measure of how many homes for sale in the country are empty, has climbed to its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking it four decades ago. Last week, the bureau said that in the final three months of 2006 there were about 2.1 million vacant homes for sale.
That brought the national homeowner vacancy rate to 2.7%, up from 2.0% a year earlier. Before 2006, the number had never risen above 2.0%. Like the housing economy more broadly, the measure varies by region: The South had a homeowner vacancy rate of 3.0%, the Midwest had a rate of 2.9%, the West had a 2.4% rate and the Northeast had a rate of 2.0%.
Let's ponder those figures for a minute.
The figure is at it's higher point .... EVER. That's not a good sign in any market.
The figure jumped .7% in a year. And the number had never been above 2% ....EVER.
So, the total number of vacant homes available for sale
1.) Has never been this high
2.) Has never even approached this level since the Census started tracking this figure
3.) Got to this level really quickly.
Housing bottom? Not with numbers like this.