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Housing in the Western States - 2018

By: John Lavey

Date: Oct, 15 2018

We wrote a few years ago about the breakdown of housing unit types throughout the United States. That blog found, unsurprisingly, the single family home dominating residential markets. In each of the four states we looked at--Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana--the single family home made up at least 60% of the housing type mix. Some smaller mountain communities (Steamboat Springs,CO; Jackson, WY) showed greater unit mix, with duplexes, and 3 - 20 bed multifamily making up to a third of the overall mix. Classic missing middle stuff. 

With some time under our belt we took another look at housing types in western communities. How have things changed? What's different? 

To no one's surprise, single family homes still dominate the market. However, some places (like Bozeman, MT and Sandpoint, ID) are seeing a growing share of the market go toward multifamily housing as developers bring more of that product online. Multifamily housing lessens competition for single family homes by providing a product type some people demand and prefer. We and others have written about the increasingly segmented market and the need to create more multifamily (AKA the 'missing middle') products to meet demand, and Bozeman and Sandpoint illustrate this need nicely. 

Data shows that statewide-Idaho was the only geography in which the proportion of single family homes grew, but just barely ticking up one percentage point to 73% of all housing statewide. Perhaps the more interesting story is in that other communities (like Taos, NM and Alamosa County, CO) the share of single family homes shrunk while "other" types, like a mobile home or RV, grew. 

This is an interesting trend to watch as it is playing out at the state level as well. The share of "other" housing types increased in each state we looked at with the exception of Colorado. Why? One train of thought is that this type of housing fills a need for affordable housing: 

"With a growing gap between the supply-and-demand of low-cost housing, mobile homes may be one of the faster and cheaper ways to provide housing for lower-income households."

Whether a mobile home, trailer or RV, this type of product also offers similar benefits to that of a single family home, namely in that there are no shared walls. People value privacy, and these home types fulfill that need at the same time as they meet a need for affordability. 

This will be an interesting trend to watch over the years. Will small "single-family-esque" homes in the "other" category continue to grow market share or is this a temporary difference? To what degree are tiny homes moving into this market arena and is that a driver of growth in this category? 

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By: John Lavey

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