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SEATTLE—Stagnant incomes and rising rents left the US with anunprecedented number of doubled-up households as people moved intogether to make ends meet. That is according to locally basedZillow.

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The firm says that all those roommates have changed the Americanhousing landscape, with 5.4 million households that would existunder normal conditions instead lost in guestrooms and basements,sharing space with friends, family and roommates, waiting forbetter economic times.

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According to Zillow analysts, more than a third of workingadults are living in doubled-up households, driving the medianhousehold size up to 1.83 adults in 2012 from 1.75 in 2000. Thephenomenon is concentrated in markets where rent has most outpacedincome, notably in California and Florida, says Zillow.

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In the Riverside, CA metro area, for example, under normalconditions, there would be 12.6% more households. In the Miamimetro, more than 230,000 households—11.3% more households thancurrently exist—were lost as people doubled up.

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As the housing market becomes friendlier for buyers and theeconomic recovery continues, those lost households could representa significant source of pent-up demand in the market as they beginto look for a new place to live, Zillow analysts say. “The rise indoubled-up households is a troubling sign of the times and starklyillustrates one of the prime drivers behind weak home sales thesedays,” says Zillow chief economist Dr. StanHumphries. “But there is a silver lining behind thisdata.”

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Humphries explains that “like a coiled spring, all of thesedoubled-up households represent tremendous potential energy for themarket. If and when these compressed households begin to unwind andthese millions of Americans do start to create their ownhouseholds, demand will bounce back, possibly even causinghousehold growth to outpace population growth.”

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That added demand will, in turn, he continues, “create moreincentive for builders to construct more homes, and will helpunblock the market. There is no magic bullet, but continued homeaffordability, an increasing supply of both for-rent and for-salehomes and the potential for incomes to grow more quickly as theeconomy recovers will all help the market to realize thispotential.”

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There is definitely a “silver lining” when it comes to thedemand for apartment living, Gary Goodman, SVP ofacquisitions at Passco Cos. tells GlobeSt.com. “Asjob growth improves, those that were forced to double up during therecession are now parting ways, and are getting their own places.”In addition, he says, “those in the Gen X and Millennialgenerations are now moving out of their parents' homes to rent forthe first time. Interestingly, we are also seeing an increasingnumber of baby boomers who are selling their homes and moving intoapartments, driving additional multifamily demand.”

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For many, Goodman continues, “owning a home today is simply notan option due to student debt, strict underwriting requirements,and not to mention the hefty down payment requirements. Thehome ownership rate continues to decline, and is currently thelowest it's been in 19 years, at 64%.”

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Many home owners, he adds, are also selling because they don'twant to deal with the headaches of owning a home anymore. “Despitethe fact that the economy is getting better, people are simply notgravitating toward single family home ownership. And with the homemarket continuing to be flat, the interest in the rental marketcontinues to climb.”

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Natalie Dolce

Natalie Dolce, editor-in-chief of GlobeSt.com and GlobeSt. Real Estate Forum, is responsible for working with editorial staff, freelancers and senior management to help plan the overarching vision that encompasses GlobeSt.com, including short-term and long-term goals for the website, how content integrates through the company’s other product lines and the overall quality of content. Previously she served as national executive editor and editor of the West Coast region for GlobeSt.com and Real Estate Forum, and was responsible for coverage of news and information pertaining to that vital real estate region. Prior to moving out to the Southern California office, she was Northeast bureau chief, covering New York City for GlobeSt.com. Her background includes a stint at InStyle Magazine, and as managing editor with New York Press, an alternative weekly New York City paper. In her career, she has also covered a variety of beats for M magazine, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, FashionLedge.com, and Co-Ed magazine. Dolce has also freelanced for a number of publications, including MSNBC.com and Museums New York magazine.