It happened again.
When the apartment hunting website ApartmentList reported in July that, for the first time in years, rents in San Francisco dipped below those paid in New York City, we flipped out a little bit. It bordered on a Back To the Future moment for us.
But we decided to be cautious. What if this was just a fluke? What if ApartmentList got it wrong? No other source suggested that New York was number one again, although most showed the city’s highs inching closer to each other. At the very least, it was prudent to wait and see how the data played out over the course of the month.
Now August is here. And once again, ApartmentList insists that New York City is the most expensive metro in the country for renters, with San Francisco coming in at number two. Don't panic. Breathe into this bag if you have to.
In July, a two-bedroom apartment on ApartmentList ran a median price of $4,730 in San Francisco. In New York, it was a whopping $5,130. That’s a tiny year-over-year increase for the Empire City, and a significant 2.6 percent decline for us.
Admittedly, San Francisco did edge New York out in the price of single bedroom apartments, with a median of $3,520. But the difference is only $10. Statistically speaking, they‘re essentially identical figures. The net effect is that, on this one site at least, San Francisco is just plain cheaper.
Now the burning question: Why only ApartmentList? Different sources will always come up with different figures, since no two methods of analysis are exactly alike, and they’re never working with precisely the same data.
Andrew Woo, ApartmentList’s lead numbers guy, tells Curbed SF that the big difference maker with New York is whether you count all of the boroughs or just Manhattan. These days, ApartmentList focuses on Manhattan alone, which is a pretty common practice, using the ultra pricy island as a barometer for the city at large.
Woo also notes that the reason ApartmentList records higher year over year declines in San Francisco than most other analyses is because he compares the prices of the same units year over year, rather than city medians.
"New stock tends to be more expensive, and that can distort citywide averages a little," explains Woo.
Still, he says the figures are consistent with what landlords and property management companies have told him about adjusting San Francisco prices downward all year.
Over the next few days, other rental sites will release their own regular reports. It’s unlikely any will mirror ApatmentList’s findings, but it’s still a slightly heady moment. It might even be safe to start hoping for a brisk autumn with some nice, cooling prices ahead.