Rental demand strong as home vacancies up in San Mateo County 

San Mateo is one of California’s most affluent counties, but even this charmed corner of the Golden State has seen the number of empty homes double in the past 10 years.

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Five percent of the county’s 271,031 housing units are vacant, which is double the rate from 2000, according to new census data. The figures demonstrate the resilience of a downturn that took away many American’s most valued possession, their home.

“Rising vacancy rates are due more to foreclosures and vacant homes than to apartments that are sitting vacant,” said Janet Stone, a county housing policy and development manager. In fact, Stone said, demand for rental units is rising as people downsize their expenses after losing jobs or homes.

“In San Mateo and all over the Bay Area, we are seeing a pretty overwhelming demand for rental housing, especially at lower income levels,” said Joe Kirchofer of the San Mateo Mid-Pen Housing Coalition. The coalition, which owns numerous low-income rentals, has a vacancy rate of about 1 percent.

Foreclosures create a downward spiral that suppresses nearby property values, making financing hard to come by and causing vacancy rates to rise, noted John Gillespie of Menlo Park’s Alpine Mortgage. And many banks — not wanting to suppress values — are holding properties off the market, further increasing vacancies, Gillespie said.

The problem is unevenly dispersed. While real estate microclimates like Daly City, Redwood City, San Mateo and South San Francisco have many foreclosures and more vacancies, more affluent areas like Belmont, Hillsborough and Woodside have fewer of both, said Oscar Lee of Menlo Park’s Red Hawk Real Estate.

But Lee remains optimistic that San Mateo County’s employment base will help it recover more quickly than other areas. “I do see a turnaround in San Mateo’s housing market,” he said, citing a 15 percent rise in asking price per square foot of county real estate over the 12 month low point.

nkyriakou@sfexaminer.com

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