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San Francisco market rents soar up to 105 percent above average

Longtime San Franciscans pay more and more in rent, but newcomers have it worse

Apartment buildings in San Francisco. Via Shutterstock

A new month is here and rent is due. And along with a new month comes a raft of data from online rental platforms eager to share gory details about how much it cost to rent a modest SF apartment in September.

These new numbers have an additional foil with which to contend: the U.S. Census Bureau last week released new estimates last week on median gross rents in SF and other Bay Area cities.

Census numbers are always one year old when released—this most recent disclosure is for the median across all of 2018. However, they’re generally considered a better representation of what people pay in rent each month.

Numbers from rent reports, like the ones below, illustrate only how much it costs to rent an SF home on a particular site, with sample sizes that skew toward newer and more expensive homes.

Comparing the two provides a vivid illustration of the difference between actual San Francisco rents and market-rate San Francisco rents—which is a doozy.


“San Francisco one-bedroom rent stayed relatively flat last month at $3,550,” notes Zumper analyst Crystal Chen in the company’s national rent report covering prices in September. That price inches up just 0.3 percent compared to July, but comes down more than 2.73 percent from last year, a difference of $100.

Last year’s $3,650-per-month price for August was more than nearly double the Census Bureau-estimated median rent in SF at the time—$1,880. This more recent figure represents a nearly 88.83 percent hike between the actual median rent and what market prices are.

Of course, a one-to-one comparison between sources like Zumper and the American Community Survey isn’t possible, since Zumper’s numbers are specifically for a one bedroom apartment (or two bedroom—that’s $4,750 in the current report), while the Census median is for all sorts of rental homes

But the latter point actually makes the contrast between the two figures all the more pointed.

Apartment List

SF-based competitor Apartment List crunched an SF median rent of $2,492 per month for August, barely more than the previous month (up by all of two dollars) and up just 0.56 percent from the same time last year when it was $2,478.

Comparisons to the Census numbers are particularly critical in the case of Apartment List, since estimates based on the Census are the reason why this site’s number are so different—and drastically lower—than others.

According to the monthly reports, Apartment List “starts with reliable median rent statistics from the Census Bureau, which we then extrapolate forward to the current month using a growth rate calculated from our listing data.”

In this case, the median rent for SF on Apartment List in 2018 ranged from $2,390 to $2,478 over the course of 12 months—not $1,880 at any point (in fact, Apartment List has never recorded an SF figure under $2,300 in five years—but closer than any of the competitor sites.

Rent Cafe

Rent Cafe typically lags behind the previous two sites by roughly two weeks, meaning that its most recent report is from mid-September and reflects numbers from August.

For that month, an apartment on the site had a median rent of $3,706—unchanged from the previous month, but up from $3,590 the same time last year.

In 2018, Rent Cafe’s SF figures reached as low as $3,428 and as high as $3,609.


Abodo reports an SF average of $3,929 per month for a single-bed SF apartment in August, breaking three months of flat rates via a decline of only $30.

The previous figure was an all-time high for the city on the platform, which usually hold the highest median rent figure for San Francisco. For all of 2018, the site’s SF median ranged from $3,864 down to $3,293, or between 75.15 to 105.53 percent more than the Census median for that year.