110 million Americans, representing 35 percent of the population, live in rented accommodations1 - the highest proportion since 1965.2 Millions among them are actively hunting for a new place to call home, but the search for a perfect place isn't always straightforward.
We surveyed over 1,300 renters to uncover the stressful truth of renting in America today, from avoiding scammers to accommodating pets and coping with rent hikes.
- One-quarter of apartment hunters said avoiding scammers was a significant issue.
- Housing issues are the main reason for animal euthanizations among renters – 29 percent said they were unable to find a pet-friendly building.
- 41 percent of renters would move if their rent was increased by $50 per month.
- 78 percent of people with debt from medical bills feel stressed by rent payments, compared to 37 percent of debt-free renters.
- 61 percent of renters would work five additional hours per week to stop the stress of monthly rent payments – 14 percent would go without sex for one year.
Continue reading to get the complete picture.
The Big Three House-Hunting Challenges: High Prices, Lengthy Searches, and No Pets Allowed
Sixty-two percent of people said ideal properties being out of their price range was a serious hurdle during their search, making it the most common issue faced by apartment hunters.
The proportion of people who experienced this hurdle differed depending on the main reason they began searching for a new place to live. Fifty-six percent of people who moved because they aspired to live in a better neighborhood said staying within a budget was a very significant challenge, compared to 89 percent who were forced to move because they were evicted.
89 percent of evictees experienced significant struggles finding an affordable place to rent.
Overall, disagreements with a significant other or friends were the least common problem among our survey takers (8 percent). However, the issue was twice as prevalent among people trying to move in with roommates (14.3 percent) as with a partner (7.4 percent).
Although it ranked in the middle of our list, the challenge of avoiding scammers still seriously affected 1 in 4 people, proving a tougher issue than dealing with difficult landlords (22 percent) and inaccurate property listings (18 percent). Scammers pervade the online rental market, particularly on sites like Craigslist. Last year, a report from New York University showed that Craigslist failed to identify more than half of rental scams on the site and 40 percent remained active for more than a day.
People in our survey who struggled to stay one step ahead of scammers faced other problems at much higher rates than those who remained untroubled by shysters. They were 4.5 times more likely to have issues with prospective landlords and 1.7 times more likely to struggle to find a pet-friendly building. Evidently, for many renters – especially those on very tight budgets – when it rains, it pours.
Finding a pet-friendly building was a serious hurdle for 35 percent of apartment hunters, making it the third most common challenge.
Struggling to find a place that allows pets can be extremely stressful, as more than 70 percent of apartment renters have pets and 95 percent of pet owners consider them family members.
In our survey, 35 percent of apartment hunters rated pet issues as very or extremely significant, making it the third most common problem.
A study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) of the roughly 3 million animal euthanizations each year in the U.S. found that among renters, housing issues were the No. 1 reason for giving up pets, with 43 percent specifically pointing to problems with landlords.
Our results show apartment hunters who experienced extreme problems finding a pet-friendly place spent 42 days searching, compared to 30 days for those without pet considerations, despite the fact that both groups expected their search to take 30 days. This provides an important reminder to renters who own pets and anticipate a move: Plan ahead! A sample of half a million Hunt.com listings from 2017 shows that while 89 percent of rental listings allow pets of some kind, only 35 percent explicitly allow dogs, and 62 percent are OK with cats.3
How Long It Takes a Typical Renter to Find a New Place: Expectation vs. Reality
Knowing how long your search for a new rented property will take is always a good idea, especially if you're approaching the end of your current contract. The typical apartment hunter expected to find their next home in 30 days but, in fact, it ended up taking 47. The effects of the 17-day gap between expectation and reality could range from mild frustration to a serious financial burden. For example, a 17-day extended hotel stay to bridge the gap could cost $2,000 in the downtown area of a city like Austin, Texas.4
Only 11% of renters found a new apartment within five days of their initial prediction.
Fifty-one percent of our survey takers' searches took longer than initially anticipated, which suggests that - for the average person - the odds of finding somewhere in the expected time frame is about the same as the toss of a coin.
Only 13 percent of people found their new place in under a week; a quarter were successful within two weeks, 50 percent within one month; and 86 percent were settled in within three months. On average, men reported finding new homes five days faster than women (44 vs. 49).
People who moved because of a relationship ending overestimated how long they spent searching by one day (24 vs. 23), whereas couples who moved in together spent two weeks longer hunting than planned (44 vs. 30). Evictees had it hardest, as they expected their search to take 30 days (the same as everyone else), but ended up spending 52 days securing a new abode.
One factor that makes searching for an apartment a time-consuming endeavor is the availability of homes, which has dropped over the last eight years in response to increased demand, from an average national vacancy rate of 11.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009 to 7.3 percent in quarter two of 2017. Beyond availability, it's the balancing act of finding a place with the right combination of features that can make the search a drawn-out, stressful affair.
You Can't Have It All: The Desired Features Apartment Hunters Sacrifice Most Often
30 percent of renters wanted a furnished property, but 69 percent weren't able to find one.
To find out renters' most common compromises, we asked which features they wanted the last time they searched and which they eventually did or didn't get in their current home. Some features weren't desired by the majority of people but were sacrificed a good deal of the time by those who did want them. For example, 30 percent wanted a furnished property, but 69 percent weren't able to get one. Similarly, 37 percent wanted to live in a good school district, but 52 percent of that group didn't get what they had hoped.
Other features were more commonly desired but still frequently unrealized. A large living space was the most desired feature, with 89 percent of people saying it was on their list of wants, but 54 percent didn't ultimately achieve it.
Other features were too important to miss out on. Ninety-seven percent of apartment hunters wanted to live in a safe neighborhood, with 69 percent saying they achieved their goal. Likewise, 62 percent of people who wanted to live close to their workplace found a suitably located property.
Baby boomers wanted apartments with gym access less often than millennials, but achieved the goal twice as often.
There were generational differences in what people prioritized. For instance, access to a gym divided baby boomers and millennials, with half of the younger group saying they wanted this feature compared to 29 percent of older people. However, it was baby boomers who got what they wanted more often, as only 27 percent had to sacrifice gym access for something else, compared to 63 percent of millennials.
Across all renters, the features people were most likely to go over budget for were open-plan diner-style kitchens, living near good schools, and being allowed to keep pets. Sadly, though, 29 percent of renters who wanted a pet-friendly place weren't able to find one. Given that so many renters own pets, this figure represents a huge number of people and a lot of stress, but there's one factor that makes an even larger number of people feel stressed on a monthly basis: paying the rent.
The Odds of Your Rent Making You Feel Stressed
For many people, the anxiety caused by searching for an apartment doesn't end when the hunt is over. Fifty-eight percent of renters said they felt stressed about their rent.
Understandably, the larger the proportion of income spent on rent, the more stressed a renter is likely to be. The tipping point, where a typical person is more likely than not to report feeling stressed regularly, is at 30 percent of income. This matches the "cost-burdened" rule of thumb, which purports renters should aim to spend less than 30 percent of their household income on rent. It's a rule that has been criticized as unrealistic and too changeable to be useful, but – for predicting the odds of feeling stressed at least – it can be a useful guide.
People who spent less than 30 percent of their income on rent felt stressed, too. One in 3 people who spent 20 percent felt stressed by rent costs each month, which rose to 69 percent for people who spent half of their income on housing.
Only 22 percent of renters correctly guessed half of U.S. renters were cost-burdened by their monthly housing costs.
Across the U.S., 50 percent of renters are cost-burdened, according to the 30 percent rule. To gauge how well-known this fact is, we asked our respondents to guess the proportion without any background information.
Only 1 in 5 correctly guessed 50 percent. A larger proportion (almost one-quarter) said 33 percent. Overall, 43.5 percent underestimated and 34.6 percent overestimated the national situation.
Respondents had a much clearer idea about their own situations, though, as three-quarters were able to guess their rent-to-income ratio within 10 percent of the true figure. To get a deeper insight into how people feel about how much they spend on rent, we asked them whether they would move if their rent increased in a question called "The $50 Dilemma."
The $50 Dilemma: What Percentage of Renters Would Move If Their Rent Increased by $50?
Forty-one percent of renters said their rent increasing by $50 at the end of their current contract would cause them to move. The factor that most influenced their decision wasn't whether they spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent, but whether they felt their rent was overpriced compared to other viable options. Thirty-five percent of people who didn't feel their rent was too high said they'd move if it increased by $50, compared to 57 percent who were already annoyed about how much they're charged.
The next strongest factor was existing issues with their property, including problems with noisy neighbors and dampness. The $50 increase was enough to push 45 percent of people with existing housing issues over the edge, whereas only 27 percent of people with no issues would see the price hike as a step too far.
Having some form of debt didn't make any difference to people's reaction to the $50 increase, but there was a noticeable relationship between rent and debt when considering stress.
Having Debt or Renting Stress-Free: Choose One
Household debt hit a record high in the first quarter of 2017, with student loans representing the second largest category, behind only mortgage debt. Our results show 37 percent of renters who didn't have any debt felt stressed most months by their rental costs, this sentiment rose to 62 percent for renters with student loans.
In a recent Hunt.com analysis, we revealed that student loan repayments, averaging $221 a month, were enough to push 3.6 million graduate renters over the 30 percent line, into the moderately cost-burdened category. Student loans weren't the most stress-causing type of debt for most renters, though.
Renters with medical debt were stressed in 78 percent of cases. This result echoes several previous studies, including one by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – who, in 2015, found 26 percent of people claimed health care costs have caused severe damage to their household finances – and a 2017 report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which showed medical debt was the most common reason for someone to be contacted by a debt collector.
So what lengths would the average renter go to toward making this stress disappear?
What Renters Would Do to Live Without Stress
Fifty-eight percent of renters felt stressed most months by their rent. Extrapolated across the entire renter population, that's equal to roughly 25 million households. We asked what hypothetical steps the stressed majority would be willing to take to relieve themselves of that nagging concern. Importantly, in these make-believe situations, they still had to pay their rent; they just wouldn't feel constantly stressed by the prospect of doing so.
29 percent of renters would never dine out if it meant feeling stress-free about paying rent each month.
A majority of renters (61 percent) would be willing to work five additional hours a week to escape the stress of their rental costs, while just over half would sacrifice ever attending their favorite sports team's games or going to the movies. In fact, 9 in 10 renters said they would make at least one of the eight lifestyle sacrifices presented.
The least agreeable option, just behind having one less week of paid holiday each year (20 percent), was going without sex for an entire year, although it still sounded reasonable to 14 percent of people (presumably the least sex-burdened).
Given half of the U.S. renter population spends more than 30 percent of its household income on rent, it's no surprise that so many people say paying rent each month is a stressful reality, made worse by debt and, in many cases, untenable by an increase of even $50.
However, our results show that – in the face of scammers and high rates, and especially in popular metro areas – intense competition for the best listings and finding an affordable rental with the right set of features can be an uphill struggle. And if you're someone who has debts and pets, things are especially tough.
The most helpful findings for the average apartment hunter are these:
- Your search will probably take a couple of weeks longer than you think. If you've been forced to move by a landlord, have had trouble paying rent on time, have a pet you're bringing with you, or aren't willing to compromise on the quality of your new neighborhood, it could take even longer.
- You'll probably end up paying more than you expect. Forty-six percent of people in our survey spent more than they originally planned, while only 22 percent spent less. Be wary of taking on the extra cost, even if it means living in a more desirable place, as 70 percent of people who spent more than planned ended up feeling stressed each month by their rental payment, compared to 50 percent who stuck to their budget.
- If possible, try to spend less than 30 percent of your income on rent, if only to stand a less than 50 percent chance of feeling stressed. In reality, less than half the renter population manages this, but it doesn't hurt to try!