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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.


5 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!

S.F. rental applications rose 79% in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020. Only NYC has a more active market.

A Rundown on the San Francisco Rental Market 

San Francisco is witnessing a remarkable resurgence of young residents. When examining the rental application data from the first six months of 2020 against the same period in 2021, there's an astounding 79 percent uptick in activity. This surge in interest is second only to New York, highlighting a significant rebound in the city's appeal to the younger demographic.

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San Francisco is currently a hotspot for Gen Z renters, those born as early as 1997, showcasing a nearly threefold increase in interest compared to the previous year. The allure for younger and perhaps more budget-conscious individuals from the surrounding Bay Area, including cities like San Jose, Oakland, Daly City, and Berkeley—who collectively account for over half of the recent applications—is the chance to secure housing at rates approximately 20% lower than those seen before the pandemic. This trend highlights a keen interest in seizing affordable living opportunities in a city known for its high cost of living.

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

When considering a rental in San Francisco, it's crucial to have a clear budget in mind. While it's no secret that living in this vibrant part of the Bay Area can be costly, finding a place shouldn't mean draining your finances. Data from Zillow suggests that the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city falls between $3,500 and $3,700 monthly. In addition to rent, be prepared to cover a security deposit, the first month's rent (and occasionally the last month's), along with an application fee, which is typically non-refundable. This preparation will help you navigate the financial aspects of securing a rental in San Francisco more effectively.

Choose an Ideal Neighborhood

Choosing the right neighborhood is key to enjoying life in the city. Look for areas that are conveniently located near your workplace, public transportation options like the BART, or your favorite spots for leisure and entertainment. If cultural connection is important to you, consider vibrant communities like the Castro or Mission Districts, where you can immerse yourself in the local ambiance and lifestyle.

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

There's no need to stretch your budget for trendy areas like NoPa or Hayes Valley, favorites among affluent millennials. Keeping your housing choices aligned with your financial reality is not just practical—it's strategic. By opting for a neighborhood that matches your budget, you'll find it easier to save money, a practice with long-term benefits. Be aware that in San Francisco's competitive housing market, where availability is tight, it's not unusual for renters to secure a lease by offering up to six months' rent in advance. While this isn't always necessary, it's something to consider in your planning.

Start Your Search

Put down your phone and step away from your computer – it's time to explore on foot. Walking through neighborhoods offers invaluable benefits. First, experiencing an area firsthand gives you a genuine sense of its atmosphere and community vibe. Second, meandering through streets might reveal rental opportunities through "for rent" signs that you won't discover on digital platforms.

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

Having a strong credit score is crucial for this step, as nearly every landlord will require a credit check before they consider you for tenancy. It's worth mentioning that undergoing several credit checks can negatively impact your score, so it's wise to only apply for apartments that truly interest you.

Timing is Everything

When you stumble upon an apartment that ticks all your boxes, don't hesitate to apply right away. Acting swiftly might just secure you a gem, like a spacious two-bedroom in a top-floor Victorian. To streamline the process, ensure you have essential details at your fingertips, including contact information for your employers and previous landlords.

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