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SF homebuyers nearly twice as wealthy as U.S. average

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Those few who own in city also double the income of renters, says Zillow

Photo by haveseen/Shutterstock

According to real estate site Zillow, the median income among those San Franciscans who buy new homes has vaulted to $155,00 per year.

Citing “income data from U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey,” Zillow’s analysis (from the site’s latest Consumer Housing Trends Report and containing data from 2017) says that the number of SF buyers with six-figure incomes leapt from 62 percent in 2012—already more than double the national average—to 71 percent five years later.

Of course, it’s only natural that San Francisco homebuyers would be wealthier than those in most other cities, since San Francisco’s median income ($103,801) in general is also higher.

However, the economic space between those buying in SF and the rest of the country is even larger than the general wealth gap. In fact, even the income discrepancy between those buying and renting in the Bay Area is almost historically large in and of itself.

According to Zillow’s figures:

  • The SF homebuyer is, on average, nearly twice as wealthy as most U.S. buyers. According to the census figures, for the entire United States a new homebuyer in 2017 averaged $79,900 per year. The San Francisco median of $155,000 is 93 percent higher.
  • SF residents are wealthier than the rest of the nation. The U.S. Census reports that in 2017 the average U.S. household income was $61,372 per year. In San Francisco, the Mayor’s Office of Housing estimates that median income for one person in 2018 was $82,900 per year, for two people $94,700 per year. Depending on the particulars, the average SF household makes between 35 percent and 54 percent more than the national average.
  • SF homebuyers make more than double SF renters. Zillow says that the median renter in SF made $73,163 per year in 2017—note that this is beneath what City Hall dubbed a median income for roughly the same period—just 47 percent of what those investing in new homes are bringing in. Note that in 2018 the San Francisco Planning Department estimated that about 65 percent of the city are renters.
  • SF renters are much wealthier compared to renters in most cities. The median income for U.S. renters in 2017 was $38,300—again, a little more than half of what SF renters make. Out of 35 major metro areas listed in the report, only San Jose renters have higher incomes, about $89,000 per year.
  • Of course, apparent wealth is a deceptive standard. San Francisco renters and buyers alike appear to make a lot of money by the standards of the general U.S. population. But relative to the cost of living in the Bay Area, many renters are barely getting by. In 2018, the California Association of Realtors advised that buyers should make an astonishing $333,000 annually before investing in a new home—taxes not included. It is possible to buy a home with less money than that—according to Zillow, most people buying in SF do earn less—but it involves a much greater housing burden and more long-term risk.

Note that because the census often assesses “metro areas” instead of individual cities that the figures provided for San Francisco may also include outlying communities like Oakland and Berkeley, which means that the median income of those living and buying only in San Francisco itself is likely even higher—and thus so is the gap compared to the rest of the country.