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Why SF median rent may be much lower than we think

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Although note that we’re down five percent from last year, so at least there's that

It’s been a year of slow but continuous easing off the clutch for the price of an apartment in San Francisco. And after the summer declined to give us any sudden and violent escalations, it looks like we’re still on track to finish out the entire year below last year’s highs. Which should be a relief to anyone who remembers last year’s highs. Ouch.

Apartment site Zumper rounded up their September figures and found that, on their own site at least, a single bedroom in San Francisco runs a median of $3,420/month, down more than half a percentage point from last month and, more impressively, down 5.5 percent from the same time last year.

That five percent margin is right around the point that the tiny decreases we’ve been getting all year finally start to seem worthwhile. Of course, nobody would suggest that a single bed for nearly three and a half grand a month is at all affordable (nobody who wants to keep any of his or her friends, anyway), but at the very least we can say that everybody who could survive renting in San Francisco last year still can this year.

In addition to that, something to keep in mind is that sites like Zumper and ApartmentList are mostly composed of new, non-rent controlled units. The "real" median rent may be significantly lower when you factor in older stock.

Back in 2013, for example, Priceonomics estimated that the city’s median apartment rent was $3,295/month. But a more comprehensive study by NYU later provided a figure of just $1,307/month for about the same period. Yes, that’s a huge difference, and while we cannot assume that the gap is equally as large now, it stands to reason that the practical median right now is much lower than we’d guess too.

(Neither of those 2013 figure was necessarily wrong, mind you; they’re just measuring different things. And in both cases, the takeaway was the same: That rents were a lot higher than they used to be, and the highest in the nation.)

While Zumper prices jumped up 2.3 percent in San Jose since last month, the capital of Silicon Valley is still down 3.5 percent for the year there, with a one bedroom median of $2,190. That’s so close to the Oakland figure of $2,210/month that there may, in fact, be no real difference between the price of the two cities at all, except of course that in Oakland that number is a gut-wrenching 6.3 percent increase year over year.

While the town did manage to slow some of their ever escalating housing prices for a few months earlier in the year, they’re right back on a trip to the moon now, up 4.2 percent just over the last four weeks. Things are tough all over.