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Where Airbnbs, VRBOs are having an outsized impact on Utah's housing market

Homes near historic downtown Park City are pictured on Dec. 15, 2021. Short-term rentals like Airbnbs are having a big impact on Utah’s housing market.

Homes near historic downtown Park City are pictured on Dec. 15, 2021. Short-term rentals like Airbnbs are having a big impact on Utah’s housing market. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — As short-term rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO have exploded in popularity, so have short-term rental properties themselves, especially in vacation destination areas.

In Utah — where skiers flock in the winters and other outdoor enthusiasts like hikers, bikers and climbers swarm in the summers — these short-term rental properties are indeed having an outsized impact on the housing market, housing availability and, yes, housing affordability.

In particular, these rental properties have eaten up a striking share of housing units in one of Utah's most popular resort communities, the ski mecca of Park City. Here, short-term rentals made up nearly 43% — almost half — of Park City's housing stock in 2020.

Almost half. Let that sink in.

That's according to a new report published Wednesday by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute's senior research fellow Dejan Eskic, who specializes in housing research.

In his report, Eskic noted short-term rentals accounted for a small percentage — 1.6% — of the state of Utah's total housing units in 2021. But even though it's a "relatively low" figure, Eskic points out the distribution of short-term rentals in Utah is uneven and is impacting some areas more than others.

And that's certainly not helping the state's affordability issues.

Utah was facing a housing shortage even before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the U.S. housing market into a frenzy — especially in the West. And now, as mortgage rates tick up, more than 70% of Utahns have been priced out of the state's median-priced home, which topped $500,000 statewide in February. That figure is even higher in Salt Lake and Utah counties.

"Academic research indicates a relationship with increasing (short-term rental) supply leading to a decrease in affordability and housing options as supply is occupied by visitors rather than full-time residents," Eskic wrote.

The aim of the report wasn't to draw "causality for housing prices," Eskic wrote. Rather, it seeks to give Utah policymakers an account of the size of the short-term rental market and how it relates to total housing supply.

Consider some of Eskic's top findings:

  • Utah's short-term rentals are growing. In 2019, there were 14,782 short-term rentals listed in Utah. That number jumped to 18,743 in 2021, an increase of 26.8% in two years.
  • Entire home rentals are gaining popularity. In 2019, there were 12,868 entire homes listed. That went up to 17,236 in 2021. During this same time period, private room listings dipped from 1,914 in 2019 to 1,507 in 2021.
  • Utah's short-term rentals are unevenly distributed. In sheer numbers, they're most concentrated in five counties: Summit County (home to Park City), Washington County (home to sunny St. George), Salt Lake County (Utah's most populous county and home to Salt Lake City), Rich County (home to Bear Lake) and Grand County (home to Moab and Arches National Park).

But other, smaller communities also see higher percentages of short-term rentals.

Where are Airbnb, VRBO's most concentrated in Utah?

Here's a top-five ranking of counties with the largest shares of short-term rental properties in 2021, according to Eskic's research:

  1. Summit County: 6,043 short-term rentals make up 23.3% of the area's total housing units.
  2. Grand County: 1,026 short-term rentals make up 19.3% of the area's total housing units.
  3. Rich County: 524 short-term rentals make up 16.5% of the area's total housing units.
  4. Kane County: 493 short-term rentals make up 8% of the area's total housing units.
  5. Garfield County: 219 short-term rentals make up 6.2% of the area's total housing units.

By sheer numbers, here's a ranking of the top five counties with the highest numbers of short-term rentals in 2021, according to the report:

  1. Summit County: 6,043 short-term rentals make up 23.3% of the area's total housing units.
  2. Salt Lake County: 3,420 short-term rentals make up 0.7% of the area's total housing units.
  3. Washington County: 2,803 rentals make up 3.5% of the area's total housing units.
  4. Grand County: 1,026 short-term rentals make up 19.3% of the area's total housing units.
  5. Utah County: 879 short-term rentals make up 0.4% of the area's total housing units.

Drilling down to city-level data, here are the top five cities with the largest shares of short-term rentals in 2021. Note that only Thompson Springs, a small community outside of Arches National Park and near Moab, outpaces Park City, which has a much larger number of short-term rentals.

  1. Thompson Springs, Grand County: Nine short-term rentals, making up 47.8% of the area's housing units.
  2. Park City, Summit County: 3,922 short-term rentals, making up 42.9% of the city's total housing units.
  3. Brian Head, Iron County: 491 short-term rentals, making up 39.7% of the city's total housing units.
  4. Snyderville, Summit County: 1,764 short-term rentals, making up 35.2% of the city's total housing units.
  5. Garden City, Rich County (by Bear Lake): 436 short-term rentals, making up 25.7% of the city's total housing units.

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Katie McKellar

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