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espiegle/iStock; realtor.com

Of all the hyperbolic new benchmarks of the American housing market (Highest-ever national home prices! Fewest-ever days on market! Most expensive teardown shack in history!), there’s one key metric that seems to get the least number of blaring headlines: inventory levels. But maybe that should change. The fact is, the number of properties available for sale in the U.S. has reached nearly historic all-time lows. And this might be the main reason why you’re having trouble affording a new home.

So we set out to find the metros where the number of homes on the market is shrinking at the fastest rate. And what it all means.

The realtor.com® data team calculated the total amount of residential square footage that has disappeared from the market over the past three years. And because inventory shortages are a heck of a lot tougher to visualize than, say, home prices, we put them into perspective. For example, Minneapolis lost the equivalent in inventory of more than two Malls of America—the largest mall in the nation with 4.9 million square feet—over a three-year period.

Bottom line: The total number of homes for sale is about as low as it’s ever been. Inventory listed on realtor.com in the first six months of 2018 is 18.2% lower than the same period in 2015. The sheer number of homes on the market in January 2018 was only 6.2 million, according to U.S. Census—a gigantic drop-off from the 14.3 million total in January 2009. Current inventory levels are comparable with what they were in the early ’60s, when the Census started collecting the data and the U.S. had roughly half its current population.

Yikes. The shrinking number of homes available means more bidding wars, bigger price hikes, and less selection. And this isn’t something that is limited to a handful of places. Of the 50 largest markets, 39 saw a decrease in inventory over the past three years.

Thank the rebounding economy for the shortage. During the recession, many folks lost their homes to short sales and foreclosures, and many builders went out of business. Then came the recovery and pent-up demand—and not enough homes to meet it.

It’s worth noting that inventory is now beginning to rise again, at least in some of the biggest markets, as fewer sellers are underwater these days and many want to cash out while prices are still high. But it’s not enough just yet to make a dent in the shortages.

“Buyers have the least amount of options they’ve ever seen before,” says Javier Vivas, director of economic research at realtor.com. At the same time, “competition has virtually doubled over the past five years.”

The data team looked at the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas,* and found the places where the number of homes on the market has dropped the most in the first six months of 2018, compared with the first six months of 2015. Then we calculated the drop in total square footage in each market. We did that by multiplying the drop in total homes in each metro by the average square footage of homes in those areas.

We excluded metros in which fewer than 50% of the listings on realtor.com didn’t include square footage. And finally, we limited our ranking to one metro per state.

Now let’s show you just what that lack of inventory looks like.

1. Sacramento, CA

Median list price: $453,000
Decrease in inventory: -55.1%
Drop in square footage on the market: 10,409,000

Lost inventory in Sacramento
Lost inventory in Sacramento Tony Frenzel

Sacramento burst onto the national scene a few years ago as more folks priced out of the San Francisco Bay Area found a cheaper alternative about two hours northeast. The city played a starring role in last year’s Oscar-nominated “Lady Bird,” a coming-of-age film where the protagonist laments her dreary life in the Sacramento of the early aughts. But all that’s changing now as refugees from San Francisco, where median prices are $898,300, and San Jose, CA, where they’re $1.2 million, are moving in and looking for relative bargains.

Now there are plenty of cities seeing influxes of new residents. But the lack of building in Sactown, as it’s called, is what earned the city the top spot on our analysis. New construction made up 9.5% of all of the homes listed on realtor.com. But that figure was just 1.9% in Sacramento.

“We have a shortage of skilled [construction] labor,” says local appraiser Ryan Lundquist. “And it is really expensive to build in California. There are [high] permit fees and environmental fees.”

Median list price: $334,600
Decrease in inventory: -52.2%
Drop in square footage on the market: 17,257,000

Fast-growing employers headquartered in Charlotte, like Bank of America, have kept a steady stream of moving trucks heading for the region. The population of the metro jumped 14% from 2010 to 2017. And all those new faces mean more buyers competing for a dwindling number of homes.

That drop in inventory is equivalent to 12 Bank of America Corporate Centers—the tallest building in Charlotte and where the bank is…