It’s no longer a renter’s market these days, to say the least.
The days of getting one month (or two, or three) free with a new lease are a thing of the past. COVID-19 pandemic deals have all but disappeared. There are now bidding wars for some New York City apartments. And renters who need to renew their lease in the next few months are likely to be in shock at how much more their landlord wants them to pay per month.
This, of course, comes at the worst possible moment.
Companies are bringing employees back to the office at least a few days a week, meaning commute times matter again. Inflation has made just about everything more expensive, and the war in Ukraine is sending gas prices even higher. And as home prices continue to reach record heights across the country, many potential buyers are being forced to rent longer to save up for a downpayment. But with national rental prices hitting historic highs, how much savings are left each month?
That’s why the data team at Realtor.com® wanted to take a look at where renters could get a break. While rental prices are soaring in many of the big cities on the coasts (they rose more than 50% in Miami in the past year), there are some affordable havens offering more budget-friendly rental options. That’s especially helpful for those fortunate enough to be able to work remotely and bring their big-city salaries to smaller real estate markets.
“Last year’s [rent] increase was the biggest we’ve seen at any time in recent history,” says Chris Salviati, senior economist with Apartment List, an online marketplace for apartment listings. “It’s a nuanced picture of supply and demand: simply a lot of households looking for a fairly scarce number of vacant units right now.”
Rents for studios to two-bedroom units were up 17.1% in February, according to the latest data from Realtor.com. It was the seventh straight month of double-digit rent growth, and rent reached a new high of $1,792 per month nationally. Every one of the 50 largest metropolitan areas recorded rent increases, with Sun Belt markets in Florida and Arizona seeing some of the fastest growth. (Metros include the main city and surrounding towns, suburbs, and smaller urban areas.)
So where did we find bargains? The places with the cheapest rents were generally located in the Midwest and South, where the cost of living (and economic growth) is lower. There are also quite a few college towns on the list, since landlords need to cater to students with limited income.
“A lot of these places tend to be midsize rather than bigger cities,” Salviati says. “They were more affordable markets pre-pandemic and have continued to be.”
To come up with this list of the most affordable metros for renters, our team of data whizzes analyzed March rent estimates from Apartment List in cities with at least 50,000 residents. We looked at the overall average rents of all sizes and types of apartments, from studios to four-bedroom units. The list was limited to one city per state to ensure geographic diversity.
Ready to save more of those precious paychecks? Dig in.
1. Odessa, TX
Average rent in March: $676
Major metros in Texas have seen record growth over the past couple of years. Austin has become a major center for tech; Dallas, the financial center of the Lone Star State, drew 64,000 new residents since the pandemic, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve; and Houston, which used to be the center of oil and gas, has diversified its economy and become a cultural beacon for food, music, and the arts.
Odessa’s economy, on the other hand, is still driven by oil and gas, and it’s been in a bust cycle since 2020, when oil prices began wild fluctuations. People losing jobs and leaving town means there are more apartments than people to fill them.
Oil and gas companies “had a lot of big layoffs, and vacancy got really high,” says Harold Hunt, a research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University. “It’s coming back, but is still extremely slow.”
Many folks who got hit hard in the oil downturn during the pandemic have moved on to more stable careers and cities, so it’s been hard for companies to find talent. Plus, supply chain issues have made it difficult for producers to increase oil production.
So Odessa is offering some serious deals on rent right now. A one-bedroom apartment with walk-in closets and a community pool is listed for $660 a month. Those looking to splurge can get an entire three-bedroom house with a raised deck and covered patio for $1,500 a month—about half the price of a one-bedroom in New York City.
Average rent in March: $749
Lake Charles had a rough couple of years. In summer 2020, it was hit by not one but two hurricanes, Laura and Delta. Then, a deadly ice storm came that winter, followed by a catastrophic flood last spring. The storms damaged about half of the homes in the surrounding parish with even more falling prey to the ensuing disasters in 2021.
Renters who lost their homes found themselves competing against their neighbors for the few units left standing, which led prices to skyrocket. So, many just left town.
While there is still plenty of demand for the few rental units that remain, it’s not quite what it was a year ago. Rents in Lake Charles are up 11.8% since before the pandemic, according to Apartment List. Still, these days, renters can find plenty of solid deals, including this one-bedroom unit for $760 a month. For those looking for more space, this newly renovated three-bedroom apartment is on the market for $839.
Average rent in March: $773
Like the rest of the Midwest, rents in Davenport remain low compared with the rest of the country. That’s mostly because the typical Davenport household pulls in about $53,000 per year, according to the latest census data. (It’s $67,500 nationally.)
Cheap rents aren’t the only draw to the area. The extremely affordable city offers small-town vibes with craft breweries, local shops, and music venues. Its beautiful parks and green spaces regularly host community events such as Downtown Davenport Street Fest and one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the U.S.
Average rent in March: $815
Cleveland has been attracting hordes of out-of-state investors seeking properties that cost way less than a down payment in New York City or California. It’s a great place to buy, but, because of those outside investors turning their purchases into rentals, there are also tons of great options for lease. And most are still incredibly affordable.
Even in the trendy suburbs where young professionals choose to reside within walking distance of craft coffee shops and cool restaurants, renters can find great deals that would cost three times the price in bigger metros.
A one-bedroom apartment inside a multifamily home is listed for just $500 per month. For those looking to splurge, a studio in an amenity-laden building with a 24/7 fitness center, rooftop patio, community lounge area with kitchenette, Wi-Fi, and a pet-washing station is priced at $969 per month.
Average rent in March: $844
While other cities have seen rental rates skyrocketing, St Cloud’s market has remained relatively steady throughout the pandemic. The college town, home to St. Cloud State University, has seen normal rent increases in the $25 to $75 a month range, says Amy Snegosky, property manager with Premier Prop Management.
While renters can find incredibly cheap units right near campus, including this studio for $275, it’s even possible to find deals in more desirable suburbs like Sauk Rapids. There, renters can find new apartments with amenities for less than the cost of a room in coastal cities like L.A. This one-bedroom with a heated underground garage, rooftop terrace, and granite countertops is going for $1,095 a month. It’s also within walking distance to restaurants, shops, trails, and more.
Average rent in March: $845
Home to the University of Notre Dame, this Midwestern city offers more than world-class football games. South Bend locals say it’s an underrated small town, with quaint neighborhoods, great farmers markets, food co-ops, and even jazz clubs.
Luxury apartments with high-end finishes and desirable amenities can be leased starting at $1,000 for a studio. Those reasonable prices and the ability to work remotely have lured young professionals from bigger metros like Chicago (1.5 hours away by car) looking for a lower cost of living.
Average rent in March: $865
Like just about everywhere else in the U.S., rents have gone up in Grand Forks—they just haven’t gone up all that much. Rents here have increased just 1.7% since March 2020, before the pandemic.
The University of North Dakota and Grand Forks Air Force Base are both based here, so there are plenty of renters on a budget. While most of the military folks stationed in town opt to buy since their monthly living allowance can cover a good portion of a mortgage, there are still plenty of folks looking to take advantage of the relatively affordable rents.
For $890 a month, it’s possible to get into a two-bedroom apartment with access to indoor pools, a hot tub, a sauna, and other amenities. Those on a serious budget can find studio apartments for less than $500 a month.
Most of the folks in town, however, still prefer single-family homes, says Jodi Danzl, a Realtor® with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Family Realty.
“You can get a very decent house for $1,500 compared to renting here,” Danzl says.
8. Wichita, KS
Average rent in March: $928
This family-friendly metro is an aviation hub, the centerpiece of a region producing more than a third of all the planes built in the U.S. It’s also home to McConnell Air Force Base, and big employers include Spirit AeroSystems, which makes parts for Boeing planes.
Because it has such a large population of military folks who often move from place to place, there are a lot of rentals to be found. Options include this three-bedroom house asking $995 a month or this brand-new three-bedroom apartment listed for the same price.
Average rent in March: $943
Set on the banks of the Arkansas River, downtown Little Rock has been completely revitalized as a walkable destination over the past few years.
The hometown of former President Bill Clinton is the location of his presidential library, the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center. It also boasts the renovated Robinson Center Performance Hall and lots of restaurants and nightlife. Because rents are so darn affordable here, residents can actually spend their money doing things rather than just paying for a roof over their heads.
But low-paying jobs (about 1 in 5 residents lives in poverty) are part of the reason rents remain so affordable.
10. Greenville, NC
Average rent in March: $949
Rents (and home prices) have spiked by more than 30% in some parts of North Carolina, as people from more expensive cities are coming for the lower cost of living and mild weather.
Greenville, in the rural eastern part of the state, is growing substantially, with more buyers and renters seeking housing than there are units available. But unlike other major metros in the state, such as Raleigh and Charlotte, it has been a bit slower to invest in economic development. While the unemployment rate is about the same as the national average, 27% of the population city lives in poverty, according to the latest census data, so they can’t afford high rents.
“We’re seeing a lot of people moving to the area,” says Michael Overton, owner and principal broker of The Overton Group. “Rent is still below [other North Carolina cities], but it’s high compared to what it was two years ago.”
Renters there can find a two-bedroom house for just $725 a month and, for folks who want all the luxuries of a modern building, a two-bedroom apartment with social events, a clubhouse, two swimming pools, a sauna, and a 24/7 fitness center is listed for just $1,584.