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San Francisco rents declared highest worldwide—again

SF’s $3,690 median rent on a one-bedroom apartment is global peak

Aerial Views Of San Francisco Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In mid-2018, an analysis that deemed San Francisco’s rents the highest in the world made international headlines. While the claim wasn’t entirely accurate, it provided a vivid illustration of how much market-rate rents have expanded in SF.

Now SF-based rental site Zumper has, once again, declared San Francisco rents the highest worldwide, publishing its results with the headline, “San Francisco is the most expensive city in the world.”

“With every monthly national rent report we do, San Francisco consistently comes out on top as the priciest city in the U.S.,” writes Zumper’s Crystal Chen.

Whereas last year’s headline-grabbing analysis by Wallet Wyse regarded rents across every type of unit, Zumper specifically focuses on one-bedroom apartments.

SF comes in No. 1 on the list with an average of $3,690 per month, followed at No. 2 by New York City’s $2,870 per month.

The highest rents outside of the U.S. in Zumper’s analysis are in Hong Kong, which came in at No. 4 with $2,350 per month. The highest in Europe goes to fourth-place London at $1,967 per month.

“To determine the rents for these 10 international cities, we used a combination of sources including Zumper’s own rental database for the U.S. cities, along with Numbeo’s and Utinokati’s data for the rest,” notes Chen.

So, is San Francisco really the priciest rental market in the world? Just like last year, the answer is a resounding “probably not.” Here’s why:

  • It bears (constant) repeating that rent prices recorded on sites like Zumper represent only the median market rent, which is different and usually significantly higher than the actual rents most people pay. This is corroborated by the annual analysis of the U.S. census, which found that the median rent in San Francisco for 2016 was $1,632 per month (not even the highest in the Bay Area, much less the world). Zumper reported medians of more than $3,000 per month during that same period.
  • As with Zumper’s recent declaration that SF rents had reached an all-time high, competing analyses by other sites tell a different tale: Apartment List, for example, estimates that median-market rent in SF right now is $2,460 per month, a figure that is also higher than what the American Community Survey will eventually report later in 2019.
  • Also note that Numbeo, one of Zumper’s sources for international rents, relies on “user inputs and manually collected data from authoritative sources,” according to its methodology. The collected data is updated only twice yearly. User reported data can come in anytime but may not reflect on the entire city.

Up-to-date statistics are something of a moving target; the most reliable figures tend to lag one or more years, and many sources that provide timely updates are limited by their methodology and samples.

That said, the fact that a new SF renter faces market-rate prices like the ones listed on Zumper is not insignificant. After all, just imagine being one of them right now.