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The once red-hot rental market has now definitively cooled. After rents rocketed up in 2021 and early 2022, the dominant theme of 2023 was a rental market cooldown: year-over-year rent growth nationally has plummeted from a peak of 18 percent to its current level of negative 1.1 percent, meaning the national median rent today is slightly lower than it was one year ago.
Year-over-year growth has now been in negative territory for the past six months, the first time that this metric has fallen below zero since the early pandemic. The recent dip has not come close to erasing the gains of prior years – the national median rent is still 20 percent higher than it was at the onset of the pandemic – but it does signal that the market is taking a breather.
What stalled the boom? Stagnating household formation in response to higher housing costs, inflation, and ongoing concerns about the economy. But weak rent growth has been equally rooted in the supply side of the market. We’re in the midst of a historic multifamily construction boom, and as softening demand collided with increasing supply, our national vacancy index continued to ease in 2023 and recently stabilized at 6.4 percent, slightly higher than the 2019 average. The key takeaway? The blistering rental surge has cooled for now thanks to easing demand and rising supply.
The 2023 rental market cooldown has spread far and wide: more than two-thirds of the nation’s 100 largest cities are currently logging negative year-over-year growth, and 83 of these cities experienced slower rent growth in 2023 than they did in 2022.
At the metro-level, Austin saw the nation’s sharpest rent decline over the past 12 months (-6 percent), likely owing largely to new supply – the area has permitted the most new housing units per-capita among large metros in recent years. The other metros where rents have fallen fastest largely consist of markets that saw some of the biggest booms in recent years, where the pendulum is now swinging back slightly in the other direction. One notable exception is San Francisco, where rents have yet to recover from sharp declines in 2020.
At the other end of the spectrum, Providence, RI logged the nation’s fastest rent growth in 2023 (+5 percent), likely driven by a surge of interest from renters looking for a more affordable alternative to nearby Boston. The continued prevalence of hybrid work arrangements is likely to continue driving interest to smaller and more affordable markets on the peripheries of major job centers. The other markets with the fastest rent growth are mostly scattered throughout the Northeast and Midwest. It’s worth noting though, that even the fastest rent growth of 2023 has still been quite modest by the standards of recent years.
We are currently in the midst of one of the most challenging times for housing affordability in recent memory. The national median rent is currently 22 percent higher than it was just three years ago, and the cost burden rate for renters has risen to a decade-long high. Prices have risen even faster on the for-sale side of the market, compounded by a rapid spike in mortgage rates. For many Americans, homeownership is no longer just a lofty goal, but a seemingly impossible one, and for those who have managed to purchase a home in today’s environment, monthly payments have skyrocketed.
This deterioration of affordability has, at root, been driven by a lack of supply. For years, there have been an insufficient number of new homes built to keep pace with the demand for new household formation. By most estimates, the U.S. housing market is currently dealing with a shortage of millions of homes. But amid this backdrop, a perhaps counterintuitive fact is also true – there are currently more spare bedrooms in American homes than ever before. In this report, we unpack the decades-long trend of spare bedrooms becoming more common and explore what it says about the state of the housing market.
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