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Rents stay depressed in San Francisco—and nationwide

Increased supply credited, although it doesn’t seem to matter how much new inventory there is

Branches growing beneath a San Francisco apartment’s window. Photo by Alix Kriel

With May Day come and gone seasonal interest usually starts to prod market rent prices up, but April showed median rents more or less sluggish on major online platforms, still down compared to 2016 and barely able to rouse much in the way of appreciation from previous months.

Zumper, which seems to have the most volatile sample compared to last year, says that rents were up 1.5 percent in April compared to March, but still down 5.9 percent from 2016.

Note that every month that goes by seems to whittle down our lead from from the much larger nine percent decline Zumper reported in the winter.

A one-bedroom apartment on Zumper runs about $3,370/month now. A few days ago the site reported prices down year over year in most Bay Area cities, except for those where generally cheaper prices have driven up demand, like Concord and Vallejo.

Competitor AparmentList reorted a $3,400/month median, unchanged from March, and still down 1.1 percent compared to 2016.

On Abodo, a single-bedroom apartment was $3,351/month, down 1.87 percent from March. Abodo’s May 2016 report didn’t mention San Francisco, so there’s no way to know the year over year comparison on that platform.

Finally, RENTCafe pegs a San Francisco apartment at $3,330/month, down half a point month over month but a pleasingly consistent 4.3 percent since last year, although note that RENTCafe’s figures are a month out of date, as they haven’t yet released April numbers.

None of these sites spend much digital ink figuring out why prices are more or less still down. Back in February, property management site Appfolio offered the San Francisco Chronicle an obvious explanation:

San Francisco [...] added 3,600 new units last year, which all the researchers agree is one of the biggest contributors to the softening in the apartment market. “Supply is finally catching up with demand in the market, so rent growth is starting to slow,” said Nat Kunes, vice president of product management at AppFolio. “It took a few years extra after the recession to get to this point because during the recession construction effectively stopped as renter demand was still growing.”

In that same article, RENTCafe’s Amalia Otet compares Oakland unfavorably to SF, noting “Oakland is rather timid regarding new apartment construction, with approximately 300 units delivered.”

But RENTCafe does report rents down in Oakland, albeit only 0.7 percent year over year. Zumper’s Oakland number is down a remarkable 14.9 percent since 2016, although a swing that big is probably a small sample size messing with the results.

Last December, Zumper’s Crystal Chen credited “more inventory” but also a “slowdown in tech.” It’s perhaps worth noting that prices are down in eight of Zumper’s ten most expensive cities, including New York City, Washington DC, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Pete Niesen