Real Estate

America's emptiest and fullest cities

A woman walks through steam rising from the ground along Fort Street in Detroit, Michigan.
Joshua Lott | AFP | Getty Images

The start of the spring housing market is days away, but anyone pounding the pavement or putting up the for sale sign knows there is not a lot out there. Great for sellers, not so much for buyers. What about vacant homes? These may be the best bargains available. Sure, they'll need some loving care in a lot of cases, but if the price is right, the work will come. Check out RealtyTrac's list of cities with the most vacant homes — and the ones where housing stock is filled to the brim.

By CNBC real estate reporter Diana Olick
Posted 11 Feb. 2016.

5. Atlantic City-Hammonton, New Jersey

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The fall of Atlantic City's gambling economy left thousands of residents jobless and prompted a new foreclosure crisis across the area. It now has the dubious distinction of the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, more than four times the national average. Unfortunately, investors in distressed properties don't see much potential in this market.

Vacancy rate: 3.7 percent

4. Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas

Tracy A Woodward | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Cities in Texas are seeing remarkable growth, even as oil prices plummet and take precious jobs along with them. Tech has stepped into Austin and Dallas, making up for the oil losses and then some. Beaumont. however, has not benefited. Unemployment is above the national average, and net migration is negative. On the bright side, the median home price is less than $100,000.

Vacancy rate: 3.8 percent

3. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio, Pennsylvania

Graffiti adorns the front of a condemned house in Warren, Ohio.
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This rust belt area has suffered from an outflow of residents, both millennials and baby boomers. Unemployment is well above the national average, and other Ohio cities are drawing population, offering better jobs. Cleveland is seeing a rebirth, which could be attracting residents from all over the state.

Vacancy rate: 4.4 percent

2. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan

Detroit, Michigan
Joshua Lott | AFP | Getty Images

Detroit's housing market was suffering well before the last recession, and then it got worse. Now, even as the city sees new growth, the mess left behind by the foreclosure crisis is still plaguing neighborhoods. Many of these vacant homes will never be livable and are just waiting for the bulldozer.

Vacancy rate: 5.3 percent

1. Flint, Michigan

Saginaw Street in downtown is shown on February 7, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.
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Flint's housing market hasn't exactly been robust for decades, but then disaster struck. The water catastrophe in Flint has made housing there virtually without value. People are clearly leaving, and the houses are sitting empty and contaminated.

Vacancy rate: 7.5 percent

5. Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Bruce Yuanyue Bi | Getty Images

While the population has remained relatively flat in Lancaster, the unemployment rate is low with a very diverse economy behind it. Agriculture leads, but the area also boasts hundreds of manufacturers and distributors, and a burgeoning downtown. With homebuilding still weak, there is just so much housing to go around.

Vacancy rate: 0.3 percent

4. Provo-Orem, Utah

Source: Eric Ward | Flickr

College towns are booming, and Provo is no exception. Brigham Young University is fueling rental demand, and unemployment is well below the national average. It's all about jobs. The area has the second largest concentration of software technologies companies in the United States and the third largest concentration of high-technology companies.

Vacancy rate: 0.3 percent

3. Manchester, Nashua, New Hampshire

DenisTangneyJr | Getty Images

Who would have thought Manchester would be called "suburban Boston." That is increasingly true, as home prices in Boston soar and the city becomes ever more popular for millennials. Biotech and education drive the city, but housing is driving people out of town, benefiting sort-of-nearby southern New Hampshire.

Vacancy rate: 0.3 percent

2. Fort Collins, Colorado

Marekuliasz | Getty Images

Home to Colorado State University, Fort Collins ranks 12th among the fastest growing metros in the nation, according to the U.S. Census. Residents have been flooding in and filling homes, thanks to strong job growth in education, but oil and gas is a major employer, so this market bears watching.

Vacancy rate: 0.2 percent

1. San Jose-Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, California

Aerial View of San Jose, California
Michael Melford | Getty Images

Apparently no home in San Jose is unlivable. Tech has taken over the area and beyond, and job growth has made housing possibly the most competitive in the nation. New construction is tough, due to land and zoning limitations. If there is a roof and four walls, it's occupied.

Vacancy rate: 0.2 percent