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SF rental market plunges after COVID-19 news

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The word “shelter” has a whole new meaning these days

A woman wears a mask because of coronavirus concerns while crossing a street. Photo by AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

With sweeping shelter-in-place orders in effect, interest in signing a lease for a new home isn’t at the forefront of most people’s minds—especially in one of the country’s most expensive markets.

Rental site Rent Cafe published its most recent numbers illustrating that, as the COVID-19 outbreak spread, the number of people using its platform to search for Bay Area apartments swiftly plummeted. The biggest drop, unsurprisingly, came after shelter-in-place orders went into effect locally.


Writer Sanziana Bona reports that the number of users nationwide dropped an average of 25 percent week over week between March 11 and March 17, with the biggest drops happening on March 16 and 17 when traffic cratered by 37 percent on both days.

The number of users searching for homes on the platform dropped by 48 percent. Bona notes that Google searches for phrases that include the word “apartment” diminished by similar margins last week as well.

In a survey of 6,000 site users, Rent Cafe found that 56 percent of those called finding a home “a priority” even under the current circumstances, but notes that 25 percent of those polled have decided to either cancel or defer previously planned moves.

Asked whether their rental priorities had changed, 49 percent said no, while 28 percent said they’re now looking for a cheaper home, and 15 percent confessed new preoccupation with cleanliness in the unit. Just four percent said they’re giving up roommates for health-related reasons.

San Francisco / Bay Area

What about in the San Francisco Bay Area? Rent Cafe spokesperson Adrian Rosenberg tells Curbed SF that the trend here is even more stark.

SF-centric traffic on Rent Cafe was down 30 percent on average. The decline on Monday and Tuesday of last week—when the city announced and implemented the shelter-in-place order—diminished 45 and 41 percent. respectively.

Google trends also showed a marked decline at the same time for the search terms like “San Francisco apartment,” “SF apartments,” and “San Francisco rent.”

The fact that only Rent Cafe has reported a dip in traffic doesn’t necessarily reflect a wider trend; none of Rent Cafe’s platform competitors have yet responded to questions about whether user behavior on their sites responded the same way. It’s also unclear whether the downturn in site use is momentary or the beginning of a slide.

However, under the circumstances it would be remarkable if people didn’t change their apartment browsing habits; there’s also been a similar downward turn on the home sales market locally.

Notably, the city’s definition of “essential business” includes moving companies, so even with a public health crisis unfolding, people are still permitted to change residences. Depending on how long the current status quo continues, some people could be forced to move depending on circumstances, even though a temporary eviction moratorium is in place.

If you have received an eviction notice during the shelter-in-place order, please read Curbed SF’s guide to rent relief during to coronavirus crisis.