The 2021 rental season went into high gear in the first half of 2021. Rent activity is back to pre-pandemic levels.

2021 Rental Season Kicked Off Twice as Strong as Usual

Rental activity was back to pre-pandemic levels during the first half of 2021, according to RENTCafe.  Gen-Z, now to be known as Zoomers, and high-earning Millennials were the most active apartment hunters.

Zoomers propelled this renewed rental activity and accounted for the largest increase, +39%, in rental applications compared to any other demographic group.

Also, New York City and San Francisco, the two hardest hit metros by the COVID pandemic, saw an “astounding interest in apartments during the first half of 2021,” according to RENTCafe. 

Renters Took Apartment Market by Storm in First Half of 2021

The peak renting season began twice as strong as usual, with +45% more renters applying for apartments in March as applied in February.  For comparison during the same time period in 2018 and 2019, applications rose by an average of 23%.

By May, post-lockdown with rising vaccination rates and increased household savings motivated renters to get moving.

Renters were motivated by two factors, according to RENTCafe data: the opportunity to get a better deal on a rental unit and the need for larger apartments to accommodate remote working.

Overall rental activity returned to pre-pandemic levels.  There was a -12% decrease in overall rental activity in 2020.  During the first half of 2021, there was an increase of +13% in rental applications.

Zoomers = Most Active Renting Generation

RENTCafe divided renal applicants by age groups to determine the most active renter groups.  Here’s what the demographics of rental applications looked like in the first half of 2021:

  • Boomers – +8% y/y
  • Gen-X – +10%y /y
  • Millennials – +5% y/y
  • Gen-Z or Zoomers – +39% y/y

Zoomers, the youngest renter generation, now makes up 27% of the country’s apartment hunters.  Also, the Zoomer demographic is the only renter age group that is growing in rental share.

Millennials are the largest segment of active renters at 45% but this demographic decreased its rental share by- 8%.  In fact, RENTCafe found that all generations of renters lost rental shares to Zoomers.  By the way, the oldest Zoomers are becoming 24 years old this year.

High-Income Renters Moved to New Digs

Looking at rental applications by income levels, RENTCafe discovered that earners in the top two income brackets were the most enthusiastic about moving to new apartments.

33% more renters earning $75,000 – $100,000 and 34% more renters earning $100,000+ moved during the first part of 2021 compared to a year ago.  The two primary reasons were the need for more space to accommodate remote working and the want for more space to accommodate a more comfortable lifestyle.

High-Income Renters the Most Active in 2021

The higher the income, the more the renter would move.

Take a look:

  • Less than $25K – 1%
  • $25K to $50K – 11%
  • $50K to $75K – 24%
  • $75K to $100K – 33%
  • $100K+           – 34%

Millennials represented approximately 50% of apartment hunters with annual incomes greater than $100K.  Gen-Xers made up about 30% of this same income group.

Apartments Filling Up in Country’s Largest Cities

All of the nation’s largest cities saw more rental activity this year than last.  Most interesting was that the most popular rental hubs were on the two coasts.

New York apartments led the pack with the number of renters moving into NYC doubling in the first half of 2021 compared to 2020.  San Francisco saw an increase of +79% y/y.  Most encouraging is that the number of renters “on the move” increased above pre-pandemic levels.

Take a look at renter movement in the top 10 largest cities in H1 2021 vs. H1 2020:

Moving Into  Moving Within    Moving Out Of

New York      209%             60%                      43%

San Francisco  105%           61%                      17%

Seattle          69%               43%                     23%

San Jose        43%               64%                     57%

DC                 65%              25%                     4%

Philadelphia   46%               34%                      49%

Chicago         80%               19%                      46%

Detroit          35%               40%                      27%

Denver          47%               16%                      10%

San Diego     59%               13%                      20%

Thanks to RENTCafe.




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