What explains the incredibly tight housing market in New Hampshire right now, with rental units almost impossible to find and houses snapped up the moment a For Sale sign appears?
One possibility is that the market is being artificially squeezed by vacation homes or short-term rentals, which are occupied only part of the time and unavailable for full-time living.
A recent New York Times article titled “Vacant homes everywhere,” based on research by the LendingTree site, fueled such speculation by saying that New Hampshire had a 17% rate of homes that were unoccupied at the time of the 2020 census, one of the highest of any state. Vermont and Maine topped the list with vacancy rates of 23%.
But it doesn’t seem that this is a factor in the recent squeezing of the market, judging from a New Hampshire Housing analysis of American Community Survey data that was released Thursday. Those figures indicate that the number of vacant homes in the state and in Concord basically didn’t budge from 2010 to 2020.
There are lots of caveats when looking at the first analysis of ACS numbers, which are based on surveys of randomly chosen households and summarized over five-year periods. Significantly, they do not include data since late 2020, a period of extreme tightening in the market and very fast growth in rents and home prices.
They also don’t reflect geographical differences between vacation communities like Conway and bedroom communities like Bow.
With that in mind, here are some key points when comparing the 2006-2010 American Community Survey results with the results from the 2016-2020 period:
The percent of housing units in the state classified as “vacant” – which includes abandoned properties as well as those where the occupant “will be there for 2 months or less” in the year – was the same in both periods. It was 15% in 2010 and 16% in 2020, but that difference is less than the margin of error so it’s just as likely that they were identical.
The percentage of units classified as “vacant” in Concord was much less than statewide, but also did not change over time: It was 5% in 2010 and 6% in 2020, a difference less than the margin of error.
Statewide, about two-thirds of these vacant homes were “seasonal, recreation or occasional use” – in other words, vacation homes – and one-tenth of vacant homes were “rented, not occupied,” which may mean short-term rentals such as AirBnB. Both of those percentages were similar in 2010 and 2020.
Concord saw a big change in the type of vacant units, but it’s hard to know what to make of it: The percentage of vacant units listed in the catchall category “other vacant” jumped from 24% in 2010 to 49% in 2020 – one possibility is that these are the homes of “snowbirds” who go south in the winter – while the percentage listed as “for rent” fell from 49% in 2010 to 30% in 2020. Concord has only a handful of vacation homes.
Virtually none of the vacant homes in New Hampshire are categorized as being for migrant workers.
Perhaps the most significant data point for Concord doesn’t concern vacant units at all: The total number of housing units in the city was unchanged over the decade through 2020, even as the state’s population grew by 4.6%. No wonder units are hard to find here.