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San Francisco rents close 2018 by rising—again

While the city’s housing market slowed a bit this year, it hasn’t stalled rent growth

Realtors Lower Housing Market Sales Forecast Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Winter is here, both for the city and for San Francisco’s always chilling rent prices, which show no signs of seasonal generosity according to reports from popular rental platforms furnishing data for the city.

Although San Francisco’s housing market seems just on the brink of turning downward year in and year out—and while some key indicators did, in fact, contract in 2018—the price of renting keeps trekking ever upward.

Across the board, year-end data shows another year-over-year appreciation in apartment prices, with San Francisco now so firmly ensconced as the country’s most expensive place to rent a home that it’s hard to imagine when the top spot might ever change.

Photo by By Mathias Podstawka
  • A one-bedroom SF apartment on Zumper closes November at a median of $3,560/month (the highest in the country), down 1.7 percent from the previous month but still up five percent year over year. Prices of similar units on the site are up all across the Bay Area, appreciating 3.3 percent in San Jose and an incredible 14.1 percent in Oakland. For comparison, the nationwide median on the same site is $1,212/month, down 1.4 percent from last year.
  • On Apartment List, a similar unit in SF averages $2,414/month, up 1.8 percent compared to the same time last year. Apartment List’s figures tend to run lower than competing sites and the swings in year-over-year changes tend to be less because of the site’s different methodology, which it claims corrects sample biases; but SF is still the priciest place to live on this list. “Of the largest ten cities that we have data for in the San Francisco metro, nine of them have seen prices rise,” economist Chris Salvati writes, the exception being Antioch, which is down 0.6 percent from 2017.
  • Competitor site Rent Cafe updates figures toward the middle of the month, so the most recent numbers provided still reflect October. There, SF ranks only second on the national listings, but that’s because RENT Cafe breaks out figures for the borough of Manhattan (where a single bedroom is $4,181/month) separately from those of the rest of New York City. Here in the city a Rent Cafe home runs $3,609/month, up 4.7 percent from the same time in 2017.
  • Abodo release rent reports intermittently, and their most recent figures also dates to the end of October as well, when a single-bed SF home was $3,816/month, the highest figure out of the entire field. Abodo doesn't specify how that compares to last year, but a look back in time shows that around the same period last year it was $3,303, an increase of more than 15.5 percent.

As always, it’s important to note that for most of these sites, the data reported reflects only the listings on each respective site, which may or may not track with prices citywide.

Apartment rental sites are more likely to attract listings for new construction that are aimed at relatively wealthy renters. Also of note, the city’s median rent includes rent controlled units and old leases rarely found on sites like Zumper.

With all that said, it’s difficult to parse the ever-rising figures as reflecting anything except a rising cost of living and renting in the city, especially given block after block of corroborating evidence from other fronts.