Skip to main content

What You Need To Know About The San Francisco Rental Market
Real Estate

What You Need To Know About The San Francisco Rental Market

The majority of San Franciscans’ paychecks go to rent—a lump of dough that rises by the year. Read on to know about the S.F. rental market.


4 min read

November 17, 2021

“How much do you pay for rent?” The age-old question overheard at dinner parties, dates, and during water cooler talks. Your monthly rent is a frank subject no matter what, and while it’s a tad awkward in other cities, the rental market in San Francisco makes for divine casual convo. The majority of San Franciscans’ paychecks go to rent—a lump of dough that rises by the year.

But have no fear—or rather have a minimal amount of fear. We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about the rental process in San Francisco, including hacks, how-tos, and step-by-step guides on finding your dream apartment. Best of luck!

Rental applications in S.F. in the first half of 2021 were up 79 percent compared with the first half of 2020. Only New York had a more active market.

A Rundown on the San Francisco Rental Market 

After a prolonged exodus, young people are returning to San Francisco. If you compare rental applications during the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2021, you’ll see an increase of 79 percent—only New York exceeds those kinds of numbers. 

Recomended businesses

Show me
Recommended Businesses near

Discover the best of California. Our recommended businesses are top-quality and are committed to their communities.

San Francisco’s rental market is especially trendy with Gen Z applicants right now, the oldest of whom were born in 1997. Interest in the city from this group was almost triple what it was a year ago. But the reason that S.F. is attracting younger, less affluent renters from around the Bay Area is that they don’t want to miss out on their opportunity to lock in rents that are still around 20 percent below pre-pandemic rates. Those hailing from San Jose, Oakland, Daly City, and Berkeley made up more than half of the total applications before moving into the city permanently.

Trends show that 34 percent of incoming renters make more than $100,000 a year, compared to the 11 percent who make between $25,000 and $50,000.

San Francisco Rental Market Trends To Look Out For

To understand San Francisco’s rent trends, we need to go back to the effects of the pandemic (surprise, surprise). The highly mobile and seemingly ‘untethered’ population of S.F. responded to the pandemic like a lot of others—with their feet. In 2020, a lot of San Franciscans left the densely packed urban center for the perceived safety of suburbs, rural outposts, and family homes. Data from the U.S. Postal Service showed that between February 1 and July 30, 2020, there were more than 27,000 change-of-address forms filed for households moving out of San Francisco. So what can this potentially mean for you?

Those who chose to stay in S.F. were given the boon of unprecedented rental inventory and the lowest rental market prices San Francisco has had in years—essentially it was (and still is for the most part) a renter’s goldmine. If you’re debating whether to rent or not, we advise you to make up your mind faster because it’s still possible to score big-time. Consider doing it before the effects of vaccine-related optimism kick back in and the prices in the rental market skyrocket. 

In May 2021, the price per room stayed essentially on par with what it was a month prior but rose 1.7 percent from the month before June. These are all signs of a rebirth in San Francisco’s rental market trends— it is slowly but surely picking up—but there’s still time to snatch that forever home.

S.F. is especially attractive to Gen Z applicants, the oldest being born in 1997. Interest in the city from this group is almost triple a year ago.

How to Find the Perfect Apartment

Set a Budget

If you’re renting in S.F., you need to know approximately the amount of money you’re willing to pay each month. And be reasonable—yes, San Francisco is on the pricier side of the rent scale, but that doesn’t mean emptying your pocket just for the idea of living in the sparkling Bay Area. According to Zillow, a single-bedroom apartment in the city rents for a median price of roughly $3,500-$3,700 a month. And whatever the price, you’ll most likely have to put down a security deposit, first (and sometimes last) month’s rent, plus an application fee; the latter is usually non-refundable.

Choose an Ideal Neighborhood

Ideally, select a neighborhood that’s close to your job, a BART, or your preferred venues of entertainment. You can also choose an area where you feel a particular kinship with its cultures such as the Castro or Mission Districts.

While high-income renters boast the biggest share of the number of applications, it's been noticed that they moved less compared to last year.

Be a Realist

You don’t necessarily have to be at the NoPa or Hayes Valley level—two pricey neighborhoods popular with well-to-do millennials—and that's okay. Incidentally, being a realist will help you get there faster. If you choose a neighborhood suited to your income bracket, saving money will become a habit, and this is a habit that does pay off. Remember, with a limited supply of housing stock, bidding wars are not uncommon in San Francisco. It’s even accepted to offer six months’ rent upfront (not all the time, but mind you, it happens).

Start Your Search

Get off your phone and close your laptop—it’s time to hit the sidewalks. Physically walking through the neighborhoods benefits you in two ways. One, nothing beats an in-person feel of a place or ‘hood. And two, scouting the areas in person will help you spot for-rent signs you wouldn’t normally find online. 

San Francisco is attracting younger, less-affluent renters from around the Bay who don’t want to miss out on their opportunity to lock in rents.

You Don’t Really Need a Broker

The S.F. rental market has traditionally been a more do-it-yourself kind of territory. But if you do feel unanchored and in need of advice, we suggest consulting with a real estate agent. An agent can help guide you through the process of finding the perfect residence within your budget—the first thing they’ll consider is matching your preferences with a neighborhood in the City by the Bay. 

PS: Not all buildings allow your furry best friends to come live with you.

Those coming from San Jose, Oakland, Daly City, and Berkeley made up more than half of the total applications of people moving into the city.

Credit Checks

For this one you’ll need a solid credit score—almost every landlord will ask to conduct a credit check before considering you as a potential tenant. It’s also important to note that multiple credit checks can actually bring down your rating, so do apply for apartments you actually want.

Timing is Everything

If you find an apartment that matches your criteria, apply as quickly as you can. Getting in early could potentially land you a sweet two-bedroom top-floor Victorian. That’s why you shouldn't waste time and have key pieces of personal information ready and available such as phone numbers of your employers and former landlords.

Need help with a home improvement project? Get a free quote today!

Enter Your Zip Code

Enter Your Zip Code

RELATED Articles

Discover More

fueled by the power of California love
We're committed to helping you discover the places, people and businesses that make our state Golden. Our online publication, updated daily, brings you all the content you need to live your California dreams. And that's just the beginning…
Purpose section
Purpose section