TAMPA — The vacancy rate for single-family homes and rental properties in the Tampa area has shrunk dramatically, according to annual figures recently released by the Census Bureau.
The Census’ American Community Survey results, released last month, show the vacancy rate for single-family homes fell from 4.3 percent in 2011 to 1.4 percent last year.
The vacancy rate for rentals fell by nearly half in the same period, from 9.6 percent in 2011 to 5.6 percent last year.
The tightening of Tampa’s supply of vacant houses probably has a number of causes, many of them tied to an improving economy, said Tim Becker, director of the Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Florida:
* The Tampa area’s expanding job market is drawing new residents to the region and encouraging others who have been doubled-up with friends or family to strike out on their own.
* Deep-pocketed investors have bought up hundreds of foreclosed houses across the city and Hillsborough County in recent months with the plan to rent them.
* Up North, a rising economic tide is enabling retirees to sell their long-time houses and move south.
“Snowbirds are more active than in years past,” Becker said. “They can buy cheap and take stuff off the market.”
Becker said he had planned to do his own research into the census report, but the agency’s resources were offline because of the partial government shutdown.
All those changes translate into population growth for the Tampa area, Becker said.
Census figures released before the shutdown show the number of households in Tampa has steadily crept up since the housing crash in 2008. The American Community Survey estimates the city now has 139,400 households, more than half of them families.
The city’s population has also crept up by 2.5 percent since the 2010 census to just more than 336,000 last year.
Those new residents have driven developers to construct thousands of new apartments across the region. In Tampa, the growth in apartments has been focused on the Channel District, Hyde Park and New Tampa.
Other market sectors benefit from the tightening of housing, too. Demand for single-family homes has grown by up to 40 percent since last year, said Jennifer Doerfel, executive vice president of Tampa Bay Builders Association.
Even in built-out Tampa, new homes are going up in parts of South Tampa, Port Tampa and New Tampa, Doerfel said.
But the tightening of the housing market isn’t happening everywhere. In East Tampa, where Chris Koury has been restoring abandoned homes, plenty of properties remain vacant.
Koury has made a business of buying abandoned houses for little or nothing and turning them around. His aim is to help raise property values — and property tax revenue with them — as a way to provide public improvements in the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area.
The housing crash left the East Tampa CRA nearly broke because of plummeting property values.
Koury said he is seeing strong demand for renovated houses when he puts them up for rent. He’s also seeing prices rise — even at the bottom of the market where he looks for fixer-uppers.
“There has been incremental price increase,” he said.
Koury said he considers about five empty houses every week for renovation. He expects little change in the near future.
“I don’t see that day coming within this ZIP code,” he said.