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With Pandemic Pricing in the Past Rent is Headed for Uncharted Territory

After shaking of "pandemic pricing," rent is skyrocketing all but a few cities. See how increasing rent prices compare to mortgage payments.

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Homebuyers on the fence about buying in a seller’s market may find motivation to buy given the trend of national rent rates.

The national median rent increased by 16.4% from January to September, according to the October Apartment List National Rent Report. Prior to the pandemic, the average rent growth from January to September was 3.4% from 2017-2019.

The 16.4% increase amounts to nearly $200 to the national median rent in just nine months. And while rents usually have a seasonal cooldown beginning in September, the rate increased by 2.1% from August to September.

Surpassing the pre-pandemic trend

Rent rates usually follow seasonal ebbs and flows, and rise somewhere between 3% and 5% annually with the rate of inflation.

Like most other things, the pandemic greatly disrupted this cycle.

Beginning in March 2020, rent prices fell below the pre-pandemic trend as COVID-19 disrupted peoples living and work situations. Then in early 2021, with the pandemic waning and vaccines on the horizon, rent prices rebounded and have been rising sharply since. 

In May, the national median rent surpassed the pre-pandemic trend. Renters are not only paying much more than they were early in the pandemic, but more than they would be paying if the pandemic hadn’t happened.

Only five of the 100 largest cities boast rent rates below the March 2020 level:

City Rent change since March 2020
San Francisco-10%
San Jose-3%
Washington D.C.-1%

Meanwhile, 22 of the largest 100 cities have seen rents increase by more than 25% since March 2020. Cities in the Sunbelt and Mountain West have been especially prone to exceptionally high rent increases.

City Rent change since March 2020
Boise, ID+39%
Tampa, FL+36%
Spokane, WA+34%
Henderson, NV+33%
Gilbert, AZ+33%
Glendale, AZ+33%
Mesa, AZ+33%
Chandler, AZ+31%
Jacksonville, FL+29%
Fresno, CA+28%

Rents in Boise and Spokane started to stabilize and dip in August. However, rent rates in many cities are bucking seasonal trends and continuing to rise when they normally fall.

Related: October Is the Best Month to Buy a Home, Sales Data Shows

Rent rates vs mortgage payments

Unlike rent, the real estate market is back to following season trends in 2021. According to Redfin, a national real estate brokerage, the national median sale price is $377,000 in September, down from a peak of $386,000 in June.

Given these opposing trends, the average monthly mortgage on a single-family home is less than the average monthly rent, even with a 0% down payment.

After a year of pandemic pricing, rent rates are surging at an unprecedented rate with little sign of slowing down. This trend changes the calculus of renting versus buying, and should be noted by people looking for housing in 2021 and 2022.

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