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U.S. Census Data: What Real Estate Professionals Should Know
September 15, 2021

U.S. Census Data: What Real Estate Professionals Should Know

by The CE Shop Team

New Data Provides Key Insights on U.S. Residents and Where They Live 

In the past decade, homebuilding in the United States slowed while the rate of vacant homes plummeted, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Many people moved to the South and West sides of the country, and metro areas swelled, with 86.0% of the U.S. population now living in a metro area.

Overall, the country’s population increased by 7.4% from 2010 to 2020 to reach a total population of 331.4 million. It was the lowest population increase since the 1930s.

These findings are among the results of the 2020 census, a national survey that’s conducted every ten years to provide a highly accurate snapshot of the country and its demographics. The census, which is mandated by the Constitution, aims to count every person living in the United States. The data is used to make important decisions, from determining Congressional representation to allocating government funding.

But census data can also be an incredibly powerful tool for real estate professionals seeking to better understand their communities and adapt to market trends.

Last year, the National Association of REALTORS® spoke out about the importance of U.S. Census data, urging its members to respond to the survey. 

“NAR is able to provide tremendous value to our members because of the research we produce examining trends in communities across this country,” said 2020 NAR President Vince Malta, a Broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco. “But the usefulness of that information relies on current, accurate data from the federal government.”

What Does the Census Show?

Interpreting census data can feel overwhelming. There’s just so much information to wade through, and it can be hard to identify trends. It’s worth browsing the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, which has maps and charts that make the information easier to understand, but to help, we’ve broken the data down into a few key ideas for real estate professionals.

Pro tip: If you’re interested in looking up information that’s specific to your state or city, it’s simple — just visit and enter your area into the search bar.

People Are Moving to Cities and Metro Areas

Americans are continuing to leave rural parts of the country for more densely populated areas, according to the new census data, which was released in August 2021.

“There were exceptions to the pattern — the population of a rural county in North Dakota exploded, for example, during an oil boom — but overwhelmingly, the United States’ growth was fueled by increases in large cities and metropolitan areas,” The New York Times reported.

In 2020, 86.0% of people lived in metropolitan areas and 8.0% lived in micropolitan areas, with only 6.0% living in more rural areas. (Some definitions: A metropolitan area has an urban core of more than 50,000 people, while a micropolitan area’s urban core has between 10,000 and 50,000 people.)

Across the U.S., 312 of the 384 metro areas gained population between 2010 and 2020. The 10 largest cities and the 10 largest metro areas all grew.

Meanwhile, more than half of U.S. counties shrank, including almost every county in Illinois, “making the state one of only three in the nation to lose population, even as the population rose in its largest city, Chicago,” The Times reported.

Overall, the population of U.S. metro areas grew by 9.0%. The fastest-growing metro areas were:

  • The Villages, Florida
  • Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, Texas
  • St. George, Utah
  • Greeley, Colorado
  • Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and North Carolina

People Are Moving South and West

The largest population growth was in Texas, which saw an increase of nearly 4 million people, followed by Florida, California, Georgia, and Washington. Those five states alone accounted for nearly half of the country’s population increase.

But, following the trend of growth in cities and metro areas, Texas’ population increase “came mainly in metropolitan areas like Houston, Austin, and Dallas-Fort Worth, while more rural counties in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle lost residents,” The Times reported.

Utah was the fastest-growing state, with a population increase of 18.4%, followed by Idaho, Texas, North Dakota, and Nevada.

Overall, Southern states saw a 10.2% population increase — Western states saw a 9.2% increase. Both were far higher than the 3.1% increase in the Midwest and the 4.1% increase in the Northeast.

Home Construction Slows

Census data also shows that the number of housing units across the country grew by only 6.7% — about half the rate of growth during the previous decade.

“This slowdown in housing unit growth was not unexpected,” the Census Bureau says. “The housing boom of the mid-2000s contributed to a rapid expansion of supply, while the housing crash and ensuing Great Recession of 2007-2008 resulted in an increase in the number of vacant units.

“Those issues, and the recovery that lasted well into the next decade, potentially reduced demand for new construction.”

But that didn’t stop some areas, especially in the South and West, from seeing a surge in new housing stock.

With an increase of 1,611,888 units, Texas boasted the highest number of new homes, followed by Florida and California with 875,770 and 712,059 new units, respectively.

The fastest-growing states in terms of homebuilding were Washington, D.C., with an 18.1% increase, Utah (17.5%), and North Dakota (16.7%).

In many states, the bulk of the new homes were in metro areas. Counties that are part of a metropolitan or micropolitan area increased their housing stock by an average of 3.8%, while more rural counties declined on average by 3.9%.

“This pattern helps to explain why more than half (50.7%) of counties showed declines in their total housing unit count when the national count grew by 6.7% between 2010 and 2020,” the U.S. Census Bureau says.

Housing Vacancies Drop


In 2020, 9.7% of housing units were vacant, down from 11.4% in 2010. The vacancy rate is still slightly higher than in 2000 when it was 9.0%.

“These fluctuations reflect the timing and consequences of the housing crisis and Great Recession of the late 2000s,” the Census Bureau says. “For many areas of the country, the economic downturn led to sharp vacancy rate increases between the 2000 Census and 2010 Census, followed by decreases between 2010 and 2020 as housing markets recovered.”

The states with the highest vacancy rates in 2020 were Maine (21.2%), Vermont (18.7%), and Alaska (17.5%).

The states with the lowest vacancy rates were California (6.4%), Washington (7.1%), and Connecticut (7.3%).

Meanwhile, the states with the largest drop in vacancies from 2010 to 2020 were Nevada (14.3% to 8.1%), Arizona (16.3% to 12.2%), and Florida (17.5% to 13.5%).

Using Census Data to Inform Your Business

Although the census is data-rich, it’s far from boring. That’s because “the census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation,” the Census Bureau says.


Start thinking about how you can use data to determine how and where to market yourself — and to better equip your buyers and sellers for success. For example, if your local market has received a population boost, consider adding information to your website that newcomers to the area might otherwise miss, like details on hidden gem restaurants and activities. Evaluate your market’s Census data, then determine where your expertise and local knowledge could fill in the gaps for your target audience. Doing so will aid in your efforts to be seen as a local leader, someone with their hand on the pulse of both their community and the real estate industry as a whole.

To check out all of the Census Bureau’s housing-related data on topics ranging from housing affordability to new construction, visit

“We really need to understand what’s taking place in our communities — who lives there, where they came from, what the trends look like, as well,” said Nate Johnson, the 2020 Public and Federal Liaison for NAR, in a video about the importance of census data.

After all, some of the census questions are explicitly relevant to real estate, Johnson said.

“Knowing this data makes us better prepared to help our clients achieve their real estate goals, and that’s all part of helping our clients achieve the American dream of homeownership,” he said.

So get out there, dig into the data, and you’ll be better suited to help your clients find their dream properties in no time.

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