Are San Francisco rents rising or falling? Depends on whom you ask

“Most landlords that I talk to, they’re panicked about the market,” said Ray Amouzandeh, principal broker with Targa Residential Brokerage. “They’re saying ‘God, is anybody renting?’”

By one measure, they are.

San Francisco rents rose 3% in April, to a median $2,157 for a one-bedroom apartment, according to real estate site Apartment List. But another report by the listing site Zumper found that San Francisco rents dropped 1.9% from last month, and they calculated a higher $2,600 median price for the same size apartment.

So which is it? And what does it mean for both the Bay Area’s usually busy summer moving season and the thousands of local renters still seeking financial relief after the economic fallout of the pandemic?

With the explosion of online real estate listing sites, deciphering constantly changing rent prices has become an art form. The main differences are usually what kind of properties are included, and whether economists are analyzing the price landlords are asking versus the prices tenants end up paying.

Apartment List combines Census median rent reports with data on listings that have been rented multiple times to weed out brand-new units that can skew numbers higher. Zumper analyzes its current online apartment listings and includes new rentals.

“We’re trying to get closer to, ‘What is the median rent in San Francisco, regardless of what mechanism you’re using to rent an apartment?’” said Rob Warnock, a San Francisco-based senior research associate at Apartment List. And even with the more measured approach, he said, one thing is clear: “The rents are rebounding.”

Amouzandeh said that depends which part of the city you’re talking about. He’s starting to see window washers return to the tech offices near his downtown apartment, but he also just negotiated a 20% price reduction with his own landlord. Across town in Bernal Heights, however, there’s more competition to rent standalone homes and cottages.

Apartment List found that San Francisco rents are still more than 19% lower than last April, though prices remain significantly higher than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. Zumper reported that asking rents were down by nearly 25% compared to last April, and it calculated an even larger 30% drop in nearby Redwood City and a 28% decline in Facebook’s home of Menlo Park.

Other Bay Area cities where rents appear to be on a steeper incline include Berkeley, Emeryville and Union City, where Apartment List found prices rose 3-to-4% last month.

“In terms of transactions, we have doubled our number of signed leases every months since November,” Amouzandeh said. “I’m an optimist, so I think by the end of 2022, we’ll probably be gaining all that back.”

While things may be looking up for some landlords, it’s far less clear how confusion about eviction moratorium and rent relief programs may play out for San Francisco tenants hit hardest by job losses and instability triggered by pandemic shutdowns.

Just last week, local faith leaders organized a sit-in at San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development to highlight the inability by thousands of mostly Black and Latino families to access promised local rent relief. Notices of rent hikes are also starting to return, said Tenants Together communications and legislative director Shanti Singh, and language access is another big barrier to emergency programs.

“We know people are falling through the cracks,” Singh said, and that many who lost jobs during the pandemic took on debt to try to stay housed. Those bills will be coming due in the months ahead.

“It’s chaos right now,” she said.

Lauren Hepler is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:; Twitter: @LAHepler

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