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Apartment List Renter Migration Report: 2021 Q2

July 13, 2021

Welcome to Apartment List’s quarterly Renter Migration Report. In this report, we analyze data on millions of searches to see where our users are preparing to move, shedding new light on the migration patterns of America’s renters.

More Americans Are Moving Post-COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic jumpstarted residential mobility, which had been slowing for decades. The national mover rate - the percentage who changed residences during the previous year - has more than halved since the mid-1980s, falling from over 20 percent to less than 10 just before the pandemic. And although the immediate response to COVID was to shelter-in-place, migration picked up quickly after that. Our survey research indicates that more Americans moved in the year after the pandemic than in the year before. Among full-time workers, 16 percent moved between April 2020 and April 2021. And Google Trends data show that interest in apartment rentals is higher now than during and before the pandemic.1

Apartment Hunters Are Now Wealthier Than Before

Not only are more Americans looking to move, but apartment hunters are getting wealthier. The pandemic unlocked new geographic flexibility for workers at the highest end of the income distribution, thanks in large part to the widespread adoption of remote work. Moreover, historically-low inventory in the for-sale market is keeping many of these high-income renters in the rental market longer.2 Today, the average household income reported by Apartment List users is 5 percent higher than it was pre-pandemic.

We see this evolution reflected in renter budgets as well. In the second quarter of 2021, Apartment List users were willing to spend an average of $1,335 per month for a new apartment.3 That’s higher than ever before, and a 6.5 percent jump from just one quarter earlier. It is not unusual to see budget increases this time of year, but in previous years the effect was much more subtle: budgets rose only 2.3 percent between the first and second quarters of 2020, and only 2.6 percent in the year before that.

Budgets Are Rising Especially Fast for Cross-Market Movers

Budgets are rising across the board, for short-distance and long-distance movers alike. But as the pandemic wanes, longer-distance moves are growing in popularity. According to our survey evidence from earlier this year, 20 percent of those who moved between April 2020 and April 2021 moved to a new metropolitan area. Apartment List search data shows that this quarter, 30 percent of prospective movers are looking to do the same.

These cross-market moves are bringing larger out-of-town budgets into local markets. In fact, our data show that the further a renter looks to move, the more they plan to spend on their next home. Among all searches performed on Apartment List in 2021 Q2, the average budget for those searching to move within their current city was $1,249. Among those planning to move to a new city but stay in the same metropolitan area, budgets rose to $1,334. Budgets for cross-metro moves rose to $1,482, and were highest for cross-state moves: $1,544.

The trend holds true for each of the 100 largest metropolitan areas across the country. Local budgets (from existing residents looking to stay within the metro) are consistently lower than out-of-town budgets (from residents of different metros looking to move in). In cities like New York, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh, the gap exceeds 25 percent. Use the interactive dashboard below to explore the data for your local metro.

Rising Budgets Play A Role In Rising Rents

As we emerge from the pandemic, more residential migration, more cross-metro moves, and higher cross-metro budgets are all contributing to rent prices rising quickly, everywhere. The table below includes 15 metros with the fastest year-over-year rent growth. In all of them, out-of-town budgets exceed local ones by a significant margin, and in all but one, those out-of-town budgets have grown faster than the national average over the past year. The list includes a number of metros across the Western United States that are popular, affordable destinations for people moving out of nearby, expensive coastal cities.

Aided by the flexibility of remote work, wealthier renters are rearranging themselves across the country and putting additional pressure on already-competitive rental markets. Typically, renter migration (and rent growth) cools each year during the late-fall and winter. Until then, as we continue through a summer free of travel and moving restrictions, the elevated mobility of high-income and high-budget renters will amplify affordability shortages in smaller rental markets.

  1. See: Google Trends analysis of the search term "Apartments for Rent."
  2. See: New York Times, Where Have All The Houses Gone?
  3. While searching for a rental, Apartment List users are asked how much they are willing to spend each month on rent. Inputted values range from a minimum of $500 to a maximum of "$10,000 or more." Responses with this maximum response are omitted from the analysis.

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Chris Salviati
Chris is a senior housing economist at Apartment List, where he conducts research on economic trends in the housing market. Chris previously worked as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve and an economic consultant, and he has BA and MA degrees in economics from Boston University. Read More
Rob Warnock
Rob is a senior research associate at Apartment List, where he examines trends in the housing and rental markets. Previously he worked in public health policy, and before that, graduated from UCLA with a degree in Globalization. Read More
Igor Popov
Igor is the Chief Economist at Apartment List, where he leads the research team in publishing original housing market research. Igor teaches an undergraduate seminar titled "Housing, Neighborhoods, and Homelessness" at Stanford University, and his research has been published in the American Economic Review. Read More
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