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See a Vacant Home? It May Not be For Sale or Rent

When many people think of vacant homes, they think of houses or apartments on the market for sale or rent. But the largest category of vacant housing in the United States is classified as “seasonal, recreational or occasional use,” commonly referred to as seasonal units. 

These vacant structures cover a wide range of housing units, from part-time residences and hunting cabins to beach houses and timeshares.

As the nation recovered from the 2007-2008 housing crisis, the vacancy rate decreased from 11.4% in 2010 to 9.7% in 2020, according to 2020 Census Demographic and Housing Characteristics data released today.


The number of units for rent, units for sale, seasonal units and units that were in the vacant for some other reason category all declined during this period.

Despite that decline, there were still over 4.3 million vacant seasonal units throughout the country and seasonal units were once again the largest category of vacant housing.

The term “seasonal vacant” covers a wide swath of potential situations, so it’s not surprising such vacancies were found in every county in the country.

But while everywhere, seasonal vacants were more common in certain places.

In 645 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, seasonal units made up at least 50% of the vacant housing in the county. In 1,313 counties, seasonal units outnumbered the combined total number of units for rent or sale that were vacant.

While these counties included areas typically known as vacation or second-home destinations, they also included some of the country’s most populous areas.

Among the 15 largest counties by number of housing units, 11 had many more vacant units listed for rent than for any other vacant category, including New York County, New York; Harris County, Texas; Cook County, Illinois; and Los Angeles County, California (Table 2).

However, Riverside County, California; Broward County and Miami-Dade County, Florida; and Maricopa County, Arizona, had more vacant units that were for seasonal, recreational or occasional use than vacant units for rent or for sale. 

There were also 20 counties where over 90% of the vacant units were seasonal, including six in Wisconsin (Vilas, Burnett, Menominee, Florence, Sawyer, Oneida counties) and three in Colorado (Hinsdale, Mineral and Grand counties) (Table 3).

All 20 of these counties also had vacancy rates much higher than the national rate of 9.7%; all but six had a vacancy rate over 50%.

The counties with the largest total number of seasonal units were in seasonal destinations, such as beach towns and ski resort areas.

Five of the top 10 counties were in Florida and two others were in New Jersey. Maricopa County and Riverside County were the only counties in the top 10 not located along a coast.

Despite the name, seasonal units cover a wide range of housing, including part-time snowbird housing in Maricopa County; second homes in New York County; hunting cabins in Vilas County, Wisconsin; and beach houses in Cape May County, New Jersey.

While it might seem complicated, the Census Bureau provides guidance to determine if a housing unit is vacant and, if so, how it should be classified.

The decennial census is the primary source of information on the type of vacant housing in your neighborhood but it’s not the only one. The Census Bureau’s Housing Vacancy Survey and American Community Survey monitor trends in vacant housing on a more frequent basis.  

Vacancy Rates in Washington State

The vacancy rate in Washington state is currently 5.2. This is according to the most recent data from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research (WCRER). The vacancy rate was lowest in King and Snohomish counties, at 5.5% and 4.3%, respectively, and highest in Yakima and Walla Walla counties, at 880 and 942. The vacancy rate has increased steadily over the past year, from 4.6% in October 2022 to 5.2% in October 2023. This increase can be attributed to several factors, including the high cost of living in Washington state, the recent influx of new residents, and the lack of affordable housing options. The vacancy rate is expected to continue to increase in the coming months, due to the continued demand for housing and the slow pace of new construction.

Overall, the vacancy rate in Washington state is a complex issue with no easy solutions. However, by understanding the factors that contribute to the vacancy rate, policymakers can begin to develop strategies to address the issue and create a more affordable housing market for all Washingtonians.

Seasonal Homes In Washington State

There are an estimated 220,000 seasonal homes in Washington state. This is according to a recent study by the Washington State Department of Commerce. The study found that the number of seasonal homes in the state has increased by over 50% in the past 20 years. This increase is due in part to the growing popularity of vacation rentals and the increasing affordability of second homes.

The study also found that seasonal homes are most common in rural areas and in counties with high levels of tourism. The top five counties for seasonal homes are King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, and Thurston. These counties are home to some of the most popular tourist destinations in the state, such as Mount Rainier National Park, the Olympic Peninsula, and the Puget Sound.

The increasing number of seasonal homes has had a number of impacts on Washington state. On the one hand, it has helped to boost the economy by creating jobs in the tourism industry and by increasing property tax revenue. On the other hand, it has also led to some negative consequences, such as increased traffic congestion, noise pollution, and a decline in the availability of affordable housing.

The state is currently considering a number of policy options to address the impacts of seasonal homes. These options include increasing the taxes on seasonal homes, restricting the number of short-term rentals, and creating more affordable housing options.


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