Americans own too many vacation homes, and it's making the 'new housing crisis' worse

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An ongoing housing shortage is lifting prices and rents, and pushing homeownership further out of reach for many Americans.

Part of the problem is that too many of the unavailable homes are only used once or twice a year when their owners are on vacation. And that's making the inventory crunch worse, according to Matthew Pointon, a property economist at Capital Economics.

The inventory shortage has been met with huge buyer demand from people looking to take advantage of low mortgage rates.

"One factor contributing to low inventory levels are the significant numbers of vacant homes which are not for sale or rent," Pointon wrote in a note on Monday.

RELATED: 10 cities facing the biggest risk of a housing bubble:

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10 US cities at risk of a housing bubble
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10 US cities at risk of a housing bubble

#10: Portland, Oregon

Median list price: $428,600
Bubble index compared with 2001: +6%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -26%

Photo credit: Getty

#9: Charleston, South Carolina 

Median list price: $322,300
Bubble index compared with 2001: +7%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -20%

Photo credit: Getty

#8: Buffalo, New York

Median list price: $159,900
Bubble index compared with 2001: +7%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -1%

Photo credit: Getty

#7: Fresno, California

Median list price: $272,100
Bubble index compared with 2001: +9%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -31%

Photo credit: Getty

#6: Los Angeles, California

Median list price: $690,000
Bubble index compared with 2001: +10%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -35%

Photo credit: Shutterstock

#5: Dallas, Texas

Median list price: $335,000
Bubble index compared with 2001: +13%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -2%

Photo credit: Getty

#4: Salt Lake City, Utah

Median list price: $347,200
Bubble index compared with 2001: +14%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -20%

Photo credit: Getty

#3: Austin, Texas

Median list price: $400,000
Bubble index compared with 2001: +17%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -1%

Photo credit: Getty

#2: San Francisco, California 

Median list price: $855,000
Bubble index compared with 2001: +19%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -26%

Photo credit: Getty

#1: San Jose, California 

Median list price: $981,500
Bubble index compared with 2001: +19%
Bubble index compared with market peak: -18%

Photo credit: Getty

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"In particular, there are large numbers of properties vacant for reasons other than use as vacation homes or other occasional use."

Citing data from the Census Bureau and National Association of Realtors, Pointon said almost one million homes are now held vacant for "personal reasons," up from under 800,000 just four years ago.

More people saw their second homes as stores of value in the low interest-rate environment that has reduced returns from some other assets, Pointon said.

In September, Vancouver announced a 2% tax on empty homes to encourage owners to rent out their properties. This hasn't been introduced in the US, but it is something that could be on the horizon in some markets, especially if the supply crunch persists.

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