What is the Difference Between a Vacant House and an Abandoned House?

abandoned house
A Typical Abandoned House


In the recent past, there has been a drastic rise in the number of abandoned and vacant houses in the United States. This is on account of the recent macroeconomic and demographic shift trends still being witnessed today. These trends include migrations from urban to rural, deindustrialization, reduction in the number of urban middle class, inadequate cash flows, outstanding property liens and uncertainties in the legal and financial sectors.


These triggers end up extending the period in which a house remains vacant or abandoned. They also result in property relegation to permanent disuse, consequently causing disinvestment in some of the regions. These factors are also able to obscure property titles making it difficult for interested new owners to buy and make improvements on the property.


However, as we discuss the possible causes and resultant effects of vacant and abandoned homes in the US, it is critical that you understand the terms used here; Vacancy and Abandonment. Many times we tend to use these two terms interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between them.


An abandoned house

An abandoned house is a home whose owner has intentionally relinquished all ownership rights and control over it. This means that over time there will be no visible or a defined owner that can be easily contacted about the house. This means that the last person to stay in the house leaves either without a word about returning to it or leaves and confirms that they have no more interest in the property.


Abandoned houses are normally left under no one’s care and with time their state will start deteriorating. This is because they are not attended to. Since an abandoned house is literally left with no clear owner, under the law a person who finds such property and develops an interest in it can claim ownership. This however, has to be done by the provisions of law.


A vacant house

A vacant house, on the other hand, is one that has no physical human tenancy. This means that the house is left with no occupants over time, but the owner still exists with a right of claim to its ownership. This means that as much as the house is left empty, the owner still has expressed interest in the property.


A house could be vacant if it is in the transition period. This simply means that it could be left empty when there is an ongoing process to change ownership. Houses could be vacant as a result of job relocation, the death of the occupant, marriage relocation of even due foreclosure by a bank when owner defaults in the mortgage payment.



A vacant house can be easily sold or have its ownership transferred to another party. This is because there is a known owner with clear reasons as to why they vacated the house. This, however, is not the case with an abandoned house. This is because an abandoned house has no known owner interested in it. It is, therefore, important o understand the difference between these two common terms and put them into consideration every time you want to purchase a house.

What is Functional Obsolescence for Houses?


Obsolescence is a state in which a given object, practice, or service is no longer wanted anymore. The item may still be in great working condition, but the availability of a better or more convenient replacement item with more advantages makes the older item become considered obsolete. The term is applicable in many sectors, both in service and real property.

In real estate, functional obsolescence can be defined as the decrease in the desirability and functionality of a specific property because it is outdated in design. This is correctly applicable when the outdated design of the property cannot be changed to suit the current demand or meet the standards set by its replacements. The house doesn’t necessarily have to be in deplorable conditions for it to be considered functionally obsolete; the mere fact that there are newly created better options within the same locality can make it obsolete. This means that people will be no longer drawn to it as they are to the other homes around it.


Common Examples of Functional Obsolescence

Outdated House
Outdated House

Imagine a neighborhood where there are a lot of older homes, and imagine that they were all built when it was standard just to build small two bedroom houses with one bathroom. Then, imagine that 40 years later, investors notice a trend that people want larger homes and they start buying up old vacant lots in the area and start building modern five bedroom houses with three bathrooms. This availability of more modern and desirable homes can essentially render all the other older homes in the neighborhood to become considered functionally obsolete.


This does not mean that the old home cannot be used; rather it implies that it no longer has all the current features and facilities that modern buyers are looking for. It is therefore considered old fashioned and no longer desirable, even if the home is in perfect condition for living.

With the current inventions of new slim flat-screen TV sets, our old home entertainment centers have become functionally obsolete. This is because everyone is drawn to modern entertainment centers that are well built to accommodate the current slim TV models. The fact that we have replacements for them which are considered desirable and efficient makes these old features functionally obsolete. The old home entertainment points are said to be too deep for the modern flat screened TVs and, therefore, can no longer perform the main functions for which they were made.

Another example of functional obsolescence is when the real property is no longer valuable to the owner. This could mean that the operating costs for this property are exceeding the income it is generating. Then no buyer would be interested in such property. It would end up being functionally obsolete.



Functional obsolescence is an aspect of real estate that is important for consideration. This is because if one needs to sell or buy a house, putting functional obsolescence into consideration will ensure correct valuation of the property. It is wise even for a business investor to consider functional obsolescence when purchasing a business. The level of obsolescence will play a significant role in determining the purchase price of the business property. It is, therefore, critical to consider weighing out the extent functional obsolescence when acquiring new property.