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SF rents soar as much as 18 percent in five years

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A panoramic, aerial view of buildings in San Francisco, with a layer of gray fog hovering over it and a bright orange sunset coloring the sky above that. Photo by Shutterstock

August marked a milestone in the turbulent history of San Francisco’s rent price explosion, as it’s been five years since large-scale online rental platforms began issuing regular monthly rent reports for a home in San Francisco and beyond.

This means one can now look back over five years of ups and downs (mostly ups, sadly) to determine longterm damage.

As usual, the numbers depend on the source, with the price of renting in SF up across the board but the specifics varying wildly with spikes as low as 6.8 percent over five years or as high as 18 percent.


“The top three markets all saw dips in rent prices last month as New York City fell from its three-year high and San Francisco continued its downward trend,” Zumper’s Crystal Chen writes in the company’s recent national rent report.

On Zumper, the price of a one-bedroom apartment in SF slipped to a median of $3,540 in August, down from $3,600 the month before and $3,720 in June. That summer decline followed after prices continually heated up in the winter and spring of this year, rising from $3,500 at the start of 2019.

The $3,540 price is also down compared to the same time in 2018, albeit by a paltry 0.8 percent.

This also marks the five-year anniversary of the site’s first monthly rent report, which, at the time, estimated an SF median price of $3,100, making it still the all-time lowest Zumper median for the city.

That means that, in the end, five years worth of turbulence about renting in the city boils down to a 14.19 percent appreciation on the site.

During that time period, June 2019’s $3,720 median was the highest SF figure recorded, representing an even 20 percent price hike since 2014.

Apartment List

SF-based competitor Apartment List also looked back to 2014 in its newest rent report, finding that the worst of the damage was not in San Francisco—or even the larger Bay Area—but showed that Stockton suffered the most during that five-year span.

“Stockton tops [the] list with rent growth of 29.0 percent since August 2014. For comparison, our national rent index grew by just 11.7 percent over this period,” economist Chris Salviati writes. He also notes that the state’s other worst-hit areas in Southern California were Anaheim and Long Beach.

By comparison, San Francisco’s Apartment List average for a one-bedroom unit in August 2014 was $2,335 per month, and in August 2019 the figure came to $2,494, up a comparably modest 6.8 percent over the course of five years.

Although Stockton’s increases have been more precipitous, the Central California city still averages $983 on the site.

Rent Cafe

Rent Cafe only began issuing its regular rent reports in September of 2016, so there’s no five-year pattern for comparison’s sake.

Perhaps that’s a good thing, because the most recent Rent Cafe median for San Francisco—issued midway through August and reflecting numbers for July—is an all-time high, hitting an average of $3,706 for a single-bedroom home in the city.

The previous high was $3,648 set in May of this year. The site’s very first rent report, released in 2015, recorded an SF median price of $3,472, an increase of nearly 6.74 percent in less than three years.


Abodo once again reports an SF average of $3,959 per month for a modest apartment in August.

The $3,959 per month price is the highest that Abodo has ever recorded since the site began tabulating these figures in January 2017. However, it does not quite count as a broken record since this figure was the same number from the previous two months.

Also, Abodo’s rental report history also doesn’t reach back five years yet, with its earliest regular report dating to January 2017. At that time, the SF median on Abodo was $3,500 for a single bedroom, making for a 13.11 percent increase in less than three years.

It’s important to note that the U.S. Census marks a median rent of $1,709 in San Francisco for 2017 (as opposed to the median market rent represented in price reports like those listed above).

Compared to 2014, that’s up 11.48 percent. And the five-year appreciation compared to 2012 is up more than 18.1 percent, up from $1,447. The U.S. Census Bureau has not provided a 2018 estimate.