Having dropped nearly 24 percent last year, the weighted average asking rent for an apartment in San Francisco has effectively held at around $3,100 a month over the past few weeks, with the average asking rent for a one-bedroom hodling at around $2,700 a month and units with at least three bedrooms having actually inched up a percent or two (but still down an average of 24 percent, year-over-year, and over 30 percent below a 2015-era peak).

At the same time, aggressive discounting and incentives to sign a new lease by the end of the year have managed to moderate the vacancy rate for larger rental buildings.

But listing activity for rental units across the city, including one-off rentals, has actually inched up over the past few weeks and there are still over 150 percent more apartments listed for rent in San Francisco than there were at the same time last year and nearly three times as many as there were in January of 2015.

In other words, the current plateau in asking prices might represent more of a psychological barrier or hope than a true market floor and/or clearing price.

Our latest trends analysis is based on pricing data from over 11,000 past and active listings, which is a subset of the data from over 100,000 listings going back to 2004 that we maintain, normalize, and index on a monthly basis.  We’ll keep you posted and plugged-in.

42 thoughts on “Asking Rents in San Francisco HODL, But…”
  1. I just re-rented a one-bedroom unit I own in Duboce Triangle for $2750, which is about $600 less than I was getting pre-Covid. It became available in early December but (not surprisingly) I didn’t have many lookers until this month. Once the new year started, I had multiple daily inquiries and it only took a couple of weeks to find the right tenants.

    This is, of course, a drastic change from pre-Covid, when I’d have had multiple applications after the very first showing. But it does seem as if there are plenty of people out looking for decent apartments at today’s version of a fair price.

    I had lots of lookers who were in roommate situations and were now looking to get their own place, given the new, lower, market rents. In fact, I’d say about 60% were in that situation. I imagine with Covid, etc., larger apartments requiring sharing with others may be a lot less desirable than before.

    Just some anecdotal information. I imagine there are areas of the city (downtown/Soma perhaps) where it’s a lot harder to rent units right now.

    1. As someone who just signed a new lease after multiple weeks search, and looking at two dozen apartments, that sounds about right. I’ve seen lots of decent apartments that were okay priced but weren’t that much better than my current place to make a move. I’ve had landlords call me after the viewing to offer more incentives. Those apartments would keep showing on CL for weeks.

      Then for a few apartments that were juuust a bit better, maybe have a W/D, patio, or slightly bigger layout for the same price, there would suddenly be multiple applicants (including myself) on day one. I missed out on two apartments because someone applied earlier than me, and I was watching CL like a hawk.

      So it felt like there is definitely not a ton of demand overall. But at the same time there is a good number of people who already live in SF, know the market well and are actively looking for a good deal.

  2. Smart to be holding out until everyone who wants to, gets vaccinated. I’m sure there are more than a few who have had their fill of their new country, suburban lifestyle. Will be interesting to see.

    1. It will be interesting to see. I agree that a lot of people will probably want to return to SF, despite our problems. I hope we are right.

    2. I think the vast majority of those who want to get back to an urban setting (probably a small fraction of those who left) will look elsewhere. Plenty of up and coming cities with a younger hip populace, culture, arts, outdoors are out there.

      The San Francisco experience that was the go go 2010s is dead. It’s not coming back.

      1. The reality is that many people flocked to SF for the jobs, certainly not the high cost of living that was exacerbated by the influx of jobs. As soon as folks realized they can work elsewhere in a lower cost of living situation many jumped on it. I’m not saying all will stay away. There are some people who love SF and will return for the culture, arts, scenic beauty, etc. Similar situations in NYC, Boston and other high cost of living areas.

      2. Those who simply want an “urban setting” never fell in love with San Francisco and probably didn’t contribute to making it better. So good riddance. I feel the same way about those who are so politically against everything San Francisco stands for, who are just their to exploit it, somehow. I hope those people pack their bags and make their exit, too.

        1. Exactly what does San Francisco stand for? Historically, it has been a hive for prospects seeking new wealth and those who want to benefit for them. Maybe I am missing something..

          1. The Gold Rush and the Technology era are two times when outsiders came to the city to exploit it for riches. I wouldn’t exactly call that a hive.

            Conservationists and to some degree NIMBYS who are responsible for SF retaining its charm for decades are generally not conservative, politically. I’m speaking about those who are exploitative, who would tear down something beautiful for their own immediate gain, take their money and flee to the blandness of Texas.

            Honestly, it seems like all you ever do is complain about San Francisco. Other than wanting improvements so you can charge more, do you have any genuine appreciation for its magnificence, of which you can thank the liberals and progressives and artists and the open minded?

          2. San Francisco is a young city whose destiny is serendipitous rather than any great conception. It was shaped by opportunity and forces outside of its control. I think all of these so called liberals, progressives, tag alongs and other coat-tail riders only exist at the behest of economy and riches created by more practical thinkers and doers.

            Tell me of any one notable invention or discovery — in sciences, engineering, philosophy or math to have originated in San Francisco. Or perhaps of a profound work of art or literature that transcends time, space and culture? Really, what has San Francisco offered to the word in terms of changing it for the better? I would genuinely like to find out.

          3. Wasn’t a lot of the research for the atomic bomb done in the Bay Area? Also television and digital synthesizers?

          4. Atomic Weapons were an outcome of Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. Part of the research came from UC Berkeley funded by State of California and Federal Government. Digital Synthesizer came out of research from Stanford University. Now UCSF does a lot of interesting research and delivered a number of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries. And UCSF gets it funding from the state Regents and Federal Govt. I suppose Mission Bay + Parnassus UCSF Campus permitting is a good thing.

            But I think these are outcomes of scientific rigor, a drive to maintain scientific primacy and hard nosed economics. And have little to do with architecture or progressive/liberal politics of SF. My question still remains — did SF enable these outcomes? or did these outcomes of external factors enable riches in SF?

          5. Sure man. SF’s nothing special and isn’t associated with anything in the world, and it’s not unique in the United States, and it’s not the principal city of a region universally recognized for cultural, technological, and scientific contributions. [/sarcasm]

            Still wondering why you post here. But the answer to your question is blue jeans.

          6. @Ohlone Californio — Maybe all I want is San Francisco to build more housing (and pursue methods to make housing generally affordable) and make the place more livable so it can continue to be an interesting place to live and not some dystopian nightmare.

            This guy agrees with me: “State Sen. Scott Wiener, who has tried and failed to dramatically alter California’s laws to get more housing built, said San Francisco’s policies “ensure that housing stays super expensive and perpetuates segregation.”

          7. By the way, The use of copper rivets to reinforce stitching was developed in Reno, NV by one Jacob W. Davis . The method of using denim canvas to make pants existed prior to in Europe and elsewhere in North America. Mr Levis Strauss did however fund the patent application, manufacturing and establishment of his namesake clothing brand, I suppose much like the current day VCs.

            If San Francsico (and California) should continue to be desirable place for business, maybe they would do better to encourage people like Jacob W. Davis who bring creativity, thoughtfulness and opportunity to the city.

          8. Scott Weiner is personally responsible for quite a lot of housing not being built in San Francisco.

  3. I suspect the young will want to return, but mid level execs hign on a booming stock market/options may be less keen. Regardless of demand for rental housing, the restaurants/bars/clubs they are returning for are likely to hit the wall. Mayor Breed has let the zombies run amok while Rome burns. Hard to see a family wanting a piece of that dumpster fire.

        1. By and large, I have found that the folks who complain “the city is run by morons” are just those that think the homeless in S.F. would just disappear into thin air if a new administration were to come into power that shared the complainer’s values (chiefly, that the homeless should disappear). Unfortunately for the alan foden types, there is no magic wand that glib libertarians, random right-wingers or anarcho-capitalists have that will make such a disappearance happen should they take over running The City.

          Mayor Breed is constrained by what the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case Martin v. City of Boise, and so would any subsequent hypothetical right-wing administration that presumably is not lead by “morons”.

          1. Well, I think the city could, at a minimum invest in public sanitation and perhaps stop the distribution of, or limit free syringes to patients admitted to care facilities.

            This public sanitation can be general purpose and homeless people / city dwellers get some number of ‘free uses’ per. Perhaps the homeless people can be given free access as a general rule. And perhaps some of the able bodied homeless people can also be deployed as maintenance personnel with wages helping them realize a way out of their hardship.

            In the manner that SF buys water resources from regions elsewhere, perhaps SF could procure housing facilities (California has a lot of cheap land) to alleviate the hardship for the homeless. Additionally, maybe increase the housing density and take measures to lower the rent/cost of housing burden to public in general.

            At some point people encroaching on public right of way is both a hazard to themselves and others.

          2. I have lived in squalor for some of my life. So I have some idea of how this goes. Its not for lack of possibilities or solutions. And certainly not for lack of resources in the case of SF (,LA and California in general). I think the problem lies elsewhere.

          3. Well having watched the number of street people ebb and flow over the decades, guess what, enforce the law and just watch the street people move on and the numbers rabidly decline.

            The majority of street people have little or no connection with the City. From elsewhere and only here for the Free Stuff. And because they know they can get away with quality of life crimes in the City that would get them locked up back in their hometown.

            There is a regular cycle to the street people numbers. And has been for at least 40 years. The situation gets worse and worse due to progressive politicians refusing to enforce the law. Streets fill up with street people. Then there are enough crazies, street crims to make more and more parts of the City dangerous and very unpleasant for ordinary folk. Then there is the backlash, enough is enough, and there is the clamp down, laws enforced, and the drunks and druggies are given the option of rehab, jail, or back to were you came from. Most move on. Because if they were serious about rehab they would not be on the streets in the first place.

            The number of street people declines rapidly and not many new ones arrive. After a few years the City is such a nice place to live that a whole new generation of people move to the City. Who then vote for the progressive politicians who reuse to enforce the law…

            And so the cycle repeats. Decade after decade. Because the people who vote the progressive politicians into office are just passing through. Rarely stay more than a decade. The Ten Year Tourists. So never have to live with the long term consequences of their virtue signalling politics. Which is always terrible.

            But the rest of us do. And have done. For decades.

  4. I think 2021 will be worse. Fauci and several reports are indicating the latest COVID strains will pose some issues with current vaccines. The new strains may still get you sick – even with a COVID vaccine. Additionally, these new strains are highly contagious – and cloth masks won’t cut it. We will need to wear N95 masks for additional protection.

    I am hearing Amazon HQ is considering pushing back their reopening date to end of this year. If offices remain closed for the rest of the year, rents will fall once again.

  5. Stuck out in the Central Valley for years wanting to come here the price drop is awesome. We got a two bedroom for the price of a one bedroom in Dogpatch and are loving life!

  6. I’ll continue to maintain that the bottom will be now/Feb/March and prices will begin moving up around April. The light is at the end of the tunnel and people will front-run to lock in great prices. More and more will be vaccinated. COVID numbers will continue to moderately improve due to the holiday spikes ending, and Biden administration policies. Spring weather will mean more mobility and action, as is typical.

    I’ve seen three acquaintances (all 35 or younger), post online about moving back into SF or NYC over the last two weeks.

    I agree with IvoryHouset that SF will continue to get younger: the young are chomping at the bit to start dating/going out again, including many moving into SF who couldn’t afford it before (Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, Fremont, Oakland etc). Olds/those with families who can work even two days a week will go/stay in the suburbs.

    1. Wait until rates rise and more HQ relocate to Austin, Miami, Etc…what’s that song, you ain’t seen nothing yet ?

  7. Once you get the vaccine (needle to skin), you will realize that you are now protected. That means you can now life pre-covid. However, we will have to wait for everyone to get vaccinated. This won’t take long. I have already started to plan my life after I received the vaccine. I can stop planning out the future as if tomorrow could be the day when Covid disappears and everything re-opens… completely. As such, there will be a massive rush back into the city: I imagine the surge of people returning similar to people rushing out to buy supplies one year ago just before lockdown.

    Before I received the vaccine, it was all about survival… trying to vaccinated. After the vaccine it’s a completely different perspective… it’s gonna be awesome for those that are fighting to get their vaccine.

    1. Google is your friend: “Hodl is slang in the cryptocurrency community for holding the cryptocurrency rather than selling it. A person who does this is known as a Hodler. It originated in a December 2013 post on the Bitcoin Forum message board by an apparently inebriated user who posted with a typo in the subject, “I AM HODLING.”

  8. Apartment rental is pretty seasonal. January is typically one if the lowest turnover months. People understandably don’t want to move in the winter.

    We all know we are going to have a wave of evictions / subsequent moves. So I’m betting we are going to see rents keep going down until at least April

  9. Rents will be coming down for the next 6-9 months at least. Many downtown companies will delay opening until end of 2021 or early 2022. Even if offices open early, it will be a hybrid/optional model so I don’t see what motivations people have to moving back into the city. I don’t really see mass migration back into the city within the next 9-12 mos. I also don’t think we have seen the effect of the early covid leases coming up within the next 3 months and the impact that will have.

    1. You have a good point, because I have one of those “early covid lease” coming up in May 2021….

      It is a nice studio on Leavenworth & Union that I rented for $2800 in May 2020. Upon a good look on Zillow, comparable studio are now listed for $2600 ~ $2700… But of course, there are a ton of “subcondition” units that are listed for $1950.

      So I fully expect my tenant to negotiate in May and I will be happy to match the market. I dont really see him moving for $200 though. So to your comment, I am not sure if there is going to be any “market impact” from listing perspective but landlords might get less for year 2 lease.

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