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San Francisco rents back to topping New York prices

It was nice while it lasted, assuming it was ever real

An aerial photo of New York City with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground. Songquan Deng

A year ago, the rental site ApartmentList briefly broke from its pack of competitors and reported that New York and not San Francisco was, in fact, the most expensive city for renters in America.

But 12 months later the tides have turned once again and San Francisco takes its inevitable place as the nation’s priciest perch on ApartmentList, coming in at $2,418/month for a one-bedroom apartment in the city in the site’s latest calculation.

New York, on the other hand, is now only third place at $2,079/month. San Jose has climbed alarmingly in the last year—2.2 percent—slightly cheaper than New York at $2,049/month for a single bed, but making up the difference in a $90 premium on two-bedroom homes to come in second on ApartmentList’s apartment list anyway.

Of course, these numbers are thousands less than those the same rental platform recorded last year, because ApartmentList recently changed the way it reasons rents.

The site’s chief number cruncher, Andrew Woo, went into depth on the methodology maneuver in a June blog post:

When calculating rent estimates, researchers draw a sample from the complete set of rental units in a given area. For private listing sites, such as Apartment List and our competitors, this sample consists of listings that appear on our platforms.

As a result of our business models, private listing data tend to include a greater share of high-end luxury units, and therefore, over represents the upscale neighborhoods in a city.

Which is why Curbed SF has long cautioned readers that the average on most rental sites is just that—an average on the site.

It’s still helpful to know what’s happening at the highest end of the market, as that end tends to drag things up for everyone else too, but it’s more guidepost than gospel.

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Woo claims that his adjusted methodology now provides a more accurate sample by taking the most census rent figure—in this case, about $1,500/month on average back in 2015—and adjusting it based on how much ApartmentList’s sample has changed since then, “[extrapolating] the Census estimates forward to the current month.”

Does it work? Well, the only way to be sure will be to compare how upcoming census data looks next to Woo’s estimates now. In the meantime, he says SF rents are down 0.6 percent year over year.

Competitor Zumper is still doing things the old fashioned way, pegging San Francisco’s latest median rent at $3,450/month for July, down 5.7 percent year over year but still blowing away number two New York by $500 even.

Other rental platforms have still not released their own competing numbers, perhaps on account of the recent holiday.