Sky-High Rental Prices Surpass Pre-Pandemic Levels By More Than 25%

Real Estate

The pandemic fueled a meteoric rise in rental prices, and a severe shortage of supply isn’t helping. The nation’s median rental price hit its latest new high of $1,849 per month in May, representing a 26.6% increase since 2019 before the pandemic began, according to the Realtor.com monthly rental report released today.

A key factor driving the ongoing rent surge is a lack of supply, as rental vacancy rates, which were already trending lower, have taken a sharp dive during the pandemic. These trends are magnified in the biggest cities that tend to attract younger residents, many of whom are in the early stages of their careers and looking for the flexibility in their living situations.

While May marked the 10th straight month of double-digit annual growth in national rents, the increase was the smallest since September 2021, offering renters a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel.

“There’s no question that renters are facing sky high prices,” said Danielle Hale, Realtor.com’s chief economist. “And with rising inflation reflecting price jumps for both rents and everyday expenses, many renters are feeling the strain on their finances. Still, our May data suggests that the rent surge is beginning to lose some steam, in part because incomes can’t keep up, even in the strong job market.”

Hale added, “Although rent growth remains historically high, the rate has been gradually cooling since January, pulling back from 2021’s feverish pace. In a bit of good news for renters, the deceleration picked up in May, which means if these trends continue, last month’s prediction of rents surpassing $2,000 some time this summer is going to take longer to materialize.”

For Americans looking for available rental units within their budgets, May trends offer bittersweet news. On one hand, national rents posted the smallest year-over-year gain (+15.5%) since September 2021, moderating from their January peak (+17.3%) for the fourth consecutive month. As a result, rents took a step back from their previous projection of surpassing $2,000 by as early as this summer. In fact, if rent growth continues cooling, typical asking rents may not reach that milestone until next year.

Additionally, with the for-sale housing supply recovery forecasted to accelerate in the second half of the year, a rise in first-time buying opportunities could take even more pressure off rental demand and prices.

Still, rental affordability remained a significant challenge for many renters across the country in May dealing with inflation. The median rental price continued its record-breaking streak, hitting a new high ($1,849) for the 15th month in a row and reaching 26.6% higher than in May 2019 before the onset of the pandemic.

Additionally, all unit sizes posted double-digit rental price gains year-over-year: studios, up 16.9% to $1,530; one-bedrooms, up 15.2% to $1,708; and two-bedrooms, up 14.8% to $2,076. Rising inflation is further compounding the strain on households’ monthly budgets, as higher costs of rents and regular expenses continue to outpace income growth.

Renting may also be a more desirable alternative to buying in these areas, where real estate has historically come at a premium. According to Census Bureau data from the first quarter of 2022, rental vacancy rates were lower inside (5.7%) versus outside (6.7%) the largest metro areas.

In May, rents grew on a year-over-year basis in all 50 of the largest metros and at a faster pace than the national rate in nearly half (21) of these markets. The biggest annual rental price gains were registered in Miami (+45.8%), Orlando, Florida (+28.4%), Providence, Rhode Island (+23.8%), San Diego (+22.7%) and Tampa (+22.4%).

Realtor.com’s analysis highlights the relationship between large markets’ rental availability and prices. On one end of the spectrum, major tech hub Boston held the nation’s fifth highest rent ($2,889) in May after posting a vacancy rate of just 2.4% in 2022-Q1. Conversely, renters may find more affordable options in relatively smaller and less densely populated secondary metros.

Of the 10 areas with the highest vacancy rates, nine were among May’s lowest-priced rental markets, led by Indianapolis with a significantly lower overall rent ($1,275) and higher vacancy rate (10.9%) than in Boston.

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