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Plot twist: San Ramon has Bay Area’s highest rent

Census says affluent Contra Costa County suburb is region’s most expensive locale

San Ramon.
Photo by OettingerCroat/Wikicommons

Everyone knows that San Francisco has the highest rent prices in the Bay Area. Indeed, popular rental platforms, like Zumper and ApartmentList, release monthly missives telling us that a San Francisco apartment is more expensive than a similar home anywhere else in the country except perhaps Manhattan.

But writing for Bloomberg View, columnist Justin Fox noticed that the wealthy Contra Costa County city of San Ramon recorded a much higher gross median rent with the U.S. Census in 2016 (the most recent year for which the data is available).

And he’s right: According to the Census’ American Community Survey, the median rent in San Francisco was $1,632/month that year, whereas San Ramon renters paid $1,987/month.

The reason that those figures seem so low is that they include a great many rent-controlled units and older leases that never show up on sites like Zumper or Craigslist—at least, not at the prices that renters are presently paying.

It’s a paradox: Renting in San Ramon is technically more expensive than renting in San Francisco, but anyone who goes hunting for an apartment in Baghdad by the Bay will end up paying much more than people already living in San Ramon—and indeed, more than anywhere else in the country. Great.

When those unlucky apartment seekers go seeking, here is what they’ll find, according to the latest batch of figures released today:

  • Over on Zumper, the price of a single-bedroom apartment in SF remains curiously stuck, as once again there’s been no change month over month and the median rent on the site remains atl $3,400. That’s up four percent compared to this same time last year. (Zumper presently lists 460 single-bedroom homes in SF, although the sample size right now will not be identical to that for the previous month.)
  • ApartmentList’s needle moved a little bit more but is still hovering around the margin of error, as the site estimates (based on the price of its own listings and projections about the current gross median rent extrapolated from the census) that a single-bed home in the city cost about $2,420 in February, up 1.1 percent from last month and one percent since 2017. This is based on a smaller sample size than Zumper, with only 282 listings citywide.
San Ramon.
  • Competitor Abodo, on the other hand, suggests that rental prices in the city are among the most volatile in the country so far this year. “San Francisco experienced the tenth largest rent change in America with a 2.8 percent increase in the median price of a one-bedroom apartment” says Abodo spokesperson Sam Radbil. Abodo’s actual report records that increase as 2.76 percent since last month, coming out to $3,384/month. The site presently lists 495 one bed apartments.
  • And RENTCafe, which relies on the data firm Yardi Matrix for its rent figures rather than only its listings, has yet to issue any conclusive findings about February rents. But this is maybe a relief, since the previous month’s report recorded the highest number out of the entire slate at $3,448 for a one bedroom.
  • And on Craigslist this week, a single bedroom in San Francisco averages about $3,112 based off of 1,976 active listings.

As for the market price in San Ramon, that city has so few rentals in the first place that it never pops up on national surveys of rent prices, which generally only concern the largest cities or metro areas on the country.

But for the truly curious, Zumper now lists 11 San Ramon one-bed rentals, with a median price of $2,097.