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National Rents Maintain Double-Digit Growth, Surpassing Pre-COVID Levels

The U.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 newest Realtor.com Monthly Rental Report.

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. And with rising inflation reflecting price jumps for both rents and everyday expenses, many renters are feeling the strain on their finances," said Realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale. "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. 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 sometime 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. New data shows that 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.

Rental affordability remains a significant challenge for many renters across the country in May, as the U.S. median rental price continued its record-breaking streak, hitting a new high ($1,849) for the fifteenth month in a row —reaching 26.6% higher than in May 2019 before the onset of COVID.

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.

In May, rents grew on a year-over-year basis in all 50 of the largest U.S. 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, Fla. (+28.4%), Providence, R.I. (+23.8%), San Diego (+22.7%) and Tampa, Fla. (+22.4%).

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.

Renting may also be a more desirable alternative to buying in these areas, where real estate has historically come at a premium. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from Q1 of 2022, rental vacancy rates were lower inside (5.7%) versus outside (6.7%) the largest metro areas.

Realtor.com 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.

To read the full report, including more details and methodology, click here.

About Author: Demetria Lester

Demetria C. Lester is a reporter for DS News and MReport magazines with more than eight years' writing experience. She has served as content coordinator and copy editor for the Los Angeles Daily News, the Orange County Register, in addition to 11 other Southern California publications. A former editor-in-chief at Northlake College and staff writer at her alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington, she has covered events such as the Byron Nelson and Pac-12 Conferences, progressing into her freelance work with the Dallas Wings and D Magazine. Currently located in Dallas, Texas, Lester is a jazz aesthete and loves to read. She can be reached at [email protected]

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