Everything about living in San Francisco changed in March, including whether or not a great many people were able to pay their rent—and what happens if they don’t.
In light of the pandemic, we might expect that the price of renting in SF would decline in the short-term, as economic turmoil and the threat of recession take hold. However, despite March being a month like no other, rent platforms report that median prices stayed flat—and in some cases rose a tiny bit.
The median price of a single-bedroom apartment on Zumper dropped 5.4 percent (down to $3,500 per month) compared to the same time last year, the only big decline recorded.
However, this might have had little to do with current events, as that represents a zero percent change month over month, and indeed, Zumper’s single-bed prices have generally hovered around $3,500 for several years.
Since most of Zumper’s housing stock is high-end new construction and luxury market homes, there’s potential for the outbreak to significantly affect prices on the platform. Zumper’s monthly report notes that “Google search volumes for apartments for rent were down ten percent to 35 percent last week in our top cities,” including SF—but it’s likely too soon to see that movement.
Apartment List says that most rents were either flat or sightly rising in SF last month, with one-bed apartment medians down just 0.2 percent compared to last year in SF, to $2,470 per month. (Apartment List’s medians are always significantly lower than Zumper’s, partly because it lists different homes but largely because the company calculate averages differently.)
There were some drops in a few cities, such as Oakland, which was down 2.4 percent for single-bed apartment averages (to $1,760). But Apartment List economist Chris Salviati saus that “COVID-19 has not yet impacted rent growth” in most markets. Salviati also previously told Curbed SF that declining demand in the Bay Area could very well drive down prices in the short term—but it’s too soon to tell for sure.
Compared to its numbers from the same time last year, Adobo’s rent prices saw a slightly bigger rent spike in March. According to the company’s figures, a single-bedroom SF apartment averaged $3,802 per month. That’s up a little bit (less than one percent) from the previous month.
Although the report doesn’t cite year-over-year trends, looking back at old Abodo numbers, the same sort of home averaged $3,777 in March 2019—an increase of about 0.66 percent.
Abodo economist Sydney Temple, who predicts bigger changes in the near future, notes that “many sectors of the national economy are shut down, and the stock markets have violently reacted to what may be the most instant recession in recent history.” She advises rent watchers to simply wait to see how things play out.
The average price of an SF apartment on Rent Jungle declined compared to last year—but only by two dollars, down to $3,446.
Other sites that compile rent figures haven’t reported on March yet, with Rent Cafe’s figures due out in mid-April. Socket Site reported last week that the “weighted average” of SF asking rents declined in March, but only about one percent year over year.
In short, almost every single thing about San Francisco changed in March—except for the price of renting. Only Zumper saw major change, but note that that site’s averages tend to swing around a lot even at the best of times.
At the same time this abiding flatness isn’t necessarily surprising; most educated guesses anticipated that current events would take longer to make a mark on rents. There was still a chance that so much sudden change in SF would shake up even these usually stolid indicators sooner than expected—the fact that this didn’t happen shows that there are limits to the power of the current crisis, at least for now.