Covid Effect On Rental Markets: Pricey Cities Become Cheaper, Cheaper Cities Become Costly

While the rental market remains far from robust, two important factors — rent decreases in the country’s most expensive cities and rent increases in more affordable cities — suggest the coronavirus pandemic is causing a squeezing effect on rental prices across the country. 

According to online rental platform Zumper, this seesaw effect has continued to accelerate this summer as the outbreak persists and more Americans are opting for cheaper places to live while working remotely.

“In our August national rent report, seven of the 10 priciest markets had larger year-over-year percentage decreases than the month prior,” said Anthemos Georgiades, co-founder and CEO of Zumper. “Additionally, five of these cities had larger month-over-month percent decreases this month than last. Meanwhile, of the top 10 least expensive cities in this report, only one city experienced a decrease in rent.”

The two priciest markets continued their downward trajectories with San Francisco and New York City one-bedroom rents down 11% and 7%, respectively, since this time last year.

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Of the top 10 least expensive cities in the 100 tracked in the report, only one city, Tulsa, Oklahoma, had a decrease in median rent for one-bedrooms.

“As historically expensive cities become cheaper and historically cheaper cities become more expensive, the gap between the price distribution of rentals across the country seems to be closing,” said Georgiades.

Overall, the national one-bedroom rent increased 0.3% to a median of $1,233, while two-bedrooms grew 0.6% to $1,493. On a year-to-date basis, one and two-bedroom prices are up 0.7% and 1%, respectively.

Here are the top five rental markets:

1. In San Francisco, one-bedroom rent dropped another 2.4% last month to $3,200, while two-bedrooms decreased 3% to $4,210. Notably, both one and two-bedroom rents are now down over 11% since this time last year.

2. New York City, similar to San Francisco, continued to see rents drop with one-bedrooms declining 1.7% to $2,840 and two-bedrooms decreasing 0.3% to $3,200. Both one and two-bedroom prices in this city have fallen around 7% year-over-year. 

3. Boston saw one-bedroom rent drop 2.5% to $2,350, while two-bedrooms dipped 3.1% to $2,810.

4. San Jose, California held on as the fourth priciest market with one-bedroom rent remaining flat at $2,300, while two-bedrooms decreased 1.4% to $2,820.

5. Oakland, California moved down one spot to become the fifth most expensive market with one-bedroom rent falling 3.5% to $2,220, while two-bedrooms grew 1.8% to $2,900.

In stark contrast to the nation’s most expensive cities, median rents in less expensive cities have been steadily increasing. Tulsa, Oklahoma, inched up one position to become the 99th priciest market with one-bedroom rent growing 5.1% to $620 and two-bedrooms increasing 1.2% to $820.

Memphis catapulted up eight spots to rank as 76th. One-bedroom rent jumped 5.1% to $820, while two-bedroom units climbed 4.8% to $880.

Durham, North Carolina moved up nine positions to 43rd with one-bedroom rent growing 4.8% to $1,090. Two-bedroom rent had a more modest growth rate, increasing 1.6% to $1,250.

Providence, Rhode Island moved down four spots to rank as the 22nd priciest city and tied with Washington, D.C. for the largest rental decline last month, falling 4.8% to $1,400.

Washington, D.C. remained the sixth priciest market and similar to Providence, Rhode Island, saw rent drop 4.8%, settling at $2,160, while two-bedrooms decreased 1.4% to $2,880.

Nationally, median rents continue to tick up during the summer moving season. Overall, the national one-bedroom rent increased 0.3% to a median of $1,233, while two-bedrooms grew 0.6% to $1,493. On a year-to-date basis, one and two-bedroom prices are up 0.7% and 1%, respectively.

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