Priceonomics

Cost of Renting a One Bedroom Apartment December 2013

Hover over a city to see its median one bedroom rent. Size of dot indicates population, color reflects rent per month.

Source: Priceonomics Rental Data

In the past, Priceonomics has analyzed apartment rent prices in San Francisco and most of the Bay Area. As part of our Data Services group, we’re now tracking rent prices in every city in America. You can request access to this kind of data here.

How much does it cost to rent an apartment in the United States? Where are the most expensive cities to live? Holy moly, did you know it’s 5x more expensive to rent a one bedroom in San Francisco than in Cleveland! Should we all be moving to Cleveland? 

In this post, we examine rent prices in the 50 most populous cities in America. We also consider whether there are any great deals. Are there cities that offer a lot of cool (statistically speaking) yet are cheap places to live?

Rankings of Most Expensive Places to Rent (December 2013)

RankCityMedian 1BR ($)
RankCityMedian 1BR ($)


Source: Priceonomics Rental Data

When it comes to the most expensive rents in America, it’s really only a two horse race between San Francisco and New York for this dubious distinction. And San Francisco, where one bedroom apartment costs $2,850, is the most expensive city in America to rent an apartment.

Since we know that New Yorkers measure self worth by claiming that they live in a very expensive and important place, we thought it would be fair to split out the median rent prices by each borough.

One bedroom median prices across New York City boroughs.

Source: Priceonomics Rental Data

There, living in Manhattan is still more expensive than San Francisco. Manhattanites can breath a sigh of relief. They’re still consuming more rarified air than everyone else.

But, back to the national data. What’s striking to us is the price disparity across the country. Why exactly can renters in one city get a one bedroom for $600 while others pay almost $3000?

One simple explanation could be that people in cities with high rents make more money. The chart below compares the median household income in these cities to the median rent price. 

Source: Priceonomics Rental Data

People do tend to earn more in more expensive cities, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. People in Boston and Charlotte make about the same amount of money, but the rent for a one bedroom in Boston is $1730 per month versus $760 in Charlotte. There are even cities where residents can earn high salaries and not pay a lot for rent! They might even be able to save money (a foreign concept to those of us renting in San Francisco).

So what else can explain the variance in rent prices across America? Perhaps some cities are centers of culture and knowledge that make them desirable places to live? Next, we compare rent versus education levels (as measured by % of population with a college degree). Education should strongly correlate with income, so we'd expect similar results.

Source: Priceonomics Rental Data

Again, most expensive cities also tend to have more educated people. Interesting exceptions abound: Seattle is more educated than San Francisco, but half the price. Atlanta has a highly educated population and a one bedroom costs $795 per month. A one bedroom in Albuquerque is $625 per month, and its citizens are much more college-educated than comparably inexpensive cities. Miami is an expensive place to live and barely anyone there went to college.

Our preliminary analyses don’t really explain why so much variation in rental prices exists. That disparity is certainly dictated by factors effecting the balance between supply of vacant housing and demand to live in a city beyond what we’ve covered here. What other variables do you think influence rental prices? Age? Population density? Weather? Let us know in the comments.

What this analysis does show, however, is that some cities seem like good values. Seattle, San Jose, Philadelphia, Virginia Beach, and San Diego stand out as places where you can make a decent salary and pay relatively low rent. If you’d like to live in a city with lots of college educated people that isn’t very expensive, you might like Seattle, Atlanta, Raleigh, Minneapolis, Denver, and Austin.

In closing, here’s a tool that shows you rent prices by number of bedrooms in each of the cities in this analysis. May the rent to income ratio be ever in your favor!

Rent Across America

Show Prices for  

Source: Priceonomics Rental Data

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