How valley home data compares nationally

Forget falling home values for a moment and let's look instead at housing from a different perspective.

That's what the U.S. Census Bureau does when it gathers data, and its findings show distinct differences between Northern San Joaquin Valley homes compared with those nationwide.

Homes here, for example, are significantly newer than those elsewhere in America.

The recently released 2007 American Community Survey quantifies how the recent building boom modernized the valley's housing stock.

Nearly 17 percent of Merced County's homes now are relatively new, having been built since 2000. In Stanislaus County, nearly 15 percent are new, as are nearly 18 percent in San Joaquin County.

That's not the case elsewhere in California, where fewer than 10 percent of homes are so new. Nationwide, just 12 percent of homes have been built since 2000.

Having a relatively new housing stock is important for communities, especially when it comes to energy use.

Newer homes are substantially more energy efficient than older homes, according to a recent study by ConSol, a Stockton firm that advises home builders on energy issues.

The study notes how building standards requiring energy efficiency have become increasingly stringent in California. Technological advancements have made home appliances much more efficient as well. Because of that, ConSol calculated that new homes use about 25 percent less energy than those built before 1990.

That's good news for Northern San Joaquin Valley homeowners, and for renters.

And there are a lot of renters in the valley, the new census statistics show.

Nationwide, more than 67 percent of homes were occupied by their owners in 2007. Ownership rates were much lower around here.

In the city of Merced, for instance, fewer than 39 percent of homes were lived in by owners in 2007. The rest were filled by renters. That was a major change since 2000, when the census determined nearly 47 percent of Merced's homes were owner-occupied.

In Modesto, about 61 percent of homes were owner- occupied in 2007, compared with about 59 percent in 2000. In Turlock, about 58 percent were owner-occupied in 2007, compared with 56 percent in 2000.

The impact of the current foreclosure crisis on homeownership rates probably will be apparent in the 2008 American Community Survey, which will be released next fall.

The slump in housing construction also should be evident in that data. In a different set of Census Bureau statistics released last month, the building downturn was evident.

During the peak of the housing boom -- 2002 through 2005 -- more than 3,000 housing units (including homes, condos and apartments) were built in Stanislaus County. That means the county's housing stock expanded by more than 2 percent a year.

Census records for 2007, however, show Stanislaus added about 2,300 housing units, or 1.3 percent.

Construction has slowed significantly since then. During the first eight months of 2008, 396 building permits for any type of housing were issued in Stanislaus. That's about a 70 percent decline, according to statistics from the Construction Industry Research Board.

Permit declines were also dramatic in Merced and San Joaquin counties. Statewide, there have been about 45 percent fewer building permits issued this year compared to last.

About 70,000 housing units are expected to be built in California this year, which is the fewest since the construction industry started keeping records in 1954.