The Great Rent Epidemic, it seems, is upon us. Between 2009 and 2013, rent rose by 12 percent nationwide.

And nowhere is the skyrocketing rent more apparent than in San Francisco. In fact, according to data from Rent Jungle, which tracks rental trends based on apartment listing prices, the average rent in SF increased from $1450 to $3839 between January 2010 and January 2014. That’s a jump of 164 percent!

But San Francisco isn’t the only city experiencing an exponential rent increase. From New York to Miami, renters in major urban hubs (and small towns) are feeling the pinch. Which makes me wonder: What can you get for your money as a renter these days?

What $1,100 in rent gets you

The average national rent is around $1,100, according to Reis, Inc., a real-estate research firm. Using this average rental rate as a baseline, I searched Craigslist for an apartment in these 5 cities.

San Francisco, California

Get ready to be depressed. Housing in San Francisco is hard to find. And at this “limited” price range, it’s near impossible. My search yielded 44 results — many of them were duplicate posts, scams, or ads for RV parking spaces and garages.

Of the legit listings, here are the top 3 common themes:

  • A kitchenless in-law in the Outer Sunset (the notoriously foggy part of the city shunned by most San Franciscans)
  • Your very own room way out in the Outer Mission … with 2 housemates
  • A 200-square-foot efficiency “penthouse,” which is really code for a converted attic or rooftop addition with no kitchen and a view

In short, if you want to live in San Francisco but can only afford $1,100, expect to be far from the city center, cramped in a makeshift unit, or sharing your space with at least 2 or 3 roommates.

New York, New York

Notorious for being an expensive city to live in, New York City actually offered slightly better accommodations than San Francisco.

For $1,100 a month in rent you can expect:

  • A renovated studio in Harlem, complete with a tiny kitchen but no private bath
  • An outdated studio in the Upper West Side, with both a bathroom and a kitchen (imagine that!)
  • A small “apartment” with all the trimmings in a private house in Queens

Interestingly, sharing a place in Manhattan is cheaper than in SF — averaging around $700 to $900 a month.

Chicago, Illinois

If you want options, square footage, and restored Art Deco buildings, head to Chicago. While the average rent of $1,692 is higher than the national average, paying $1,100 will get you:

  • A 3-bedroom,1-bath remodeled flat (the equivalent of a mansion in San Francisco)
  • A 2 bedroom in a high-rise with a view
  • A luxury studio with a gym, rooftop deck, heat, gas, water, internet and DirecTV included

Here’s something else to ponder. Chicago had 10,000 available listings, many of them recently “rehabbed” and ALL of them offered their own private bath and kitchen.

Houston, Texas

It’s true: everything is bigger in Texas, including rentals. For the price of a Dostoevskianesque room in San Francisco, Houston renters can choose from:

  • A brand-new, 1,700-square-foot, 3-bedroom home in the Houston suburbs, complete with a large backyard and swimming pool
  • A 2-bedroom high-rise by the lake with resort-like amenities—gym, spa, valet laundry service(!)
  • A luxury loft in the heart of downtown, sweeping city views, a granite kitchen, concierge service, a gym, pool, etc.

Eat your heart out, San Francisco.

Miami Beach, Florida

Home to the glitterati and multimillion-dollar mansions, Miami Beach isn’t known for its modest accommodations. Which means that your rental money won’t get you Houston’s luxe high-rise or Chicago’s charm. But you will get:

  • A 450-square-foot Art Deco studio in the heart of South Beach with hardwood floors, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom that hasn’t been updated since it was built
  • A cute, furnished 240-square-foot studio 2 blocks from the ocean
  • A remodeled 700-square-foot one bedroom, with granite countertops and a remodeled bathroom. The only catch? It’s in the boondocks.

And for a handy visual, check out this infographic

Click on the infographic to expand.


5 takeaways for renters

My virtual tour taught me a few things.

  1. If you want a kitchen in San Francisco, be prepared to pay at least $1,500 or have roommates. (Then again, in a city known for its food scene, who wants to cook?)
  2. In New York, shared bathrooms are the norm.
  3. Chicago and Houston renters have options. From single-family homes in the ‘burbs to posh digs in the heart of downtown, there’s something to suit every taste.
  4. In Miami, if you want a primo location and stunning views, don’t count on posh digs. For $1,100 a month, you can generally expect about 400 square feet of studio space with bare basic fixtures.
  5. If you want more bang for your buck in many major cities — or a place at all in sought-after markets like SF or NYC — you’ll be on the periphery.

But don’t despair. Even though the rental market is crazy, you can still get sane and affordable renters insurance for $10 a month on average.*

*Average monthly cost and annual premium figures based on Esurance renters coverage purchased between 8/25/2012 and 7/31/2013. Your premium will depend on the details of your selected coverage and your specific property. Coverages subject to availability and qualifications. Terms, conditions, limits, and exclusions will apply. Esurance renters coverage is not available in all states. In those states, Esurance Insurance Services, Inc. (California License #0G87829), offers, among other insurance products and services, the renters policies underwritten by member companies of the Homesite Insurance Group and Security First Insurance Company.

Renters 101


about Anne

If variety is the spice of a copywriter’s life, then Anne’s career at Esurance was akin to sassafras. From 2010 to 2014, she added a touch of zest to topics ranging from cleaning with baking soda to becoming a first-time homeowner.