Rental Competitivity in California in 2022: Orange County Tops the List

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  • Orange County was California’s hottest market in 2022, followed by San Diego and the Central Coast.
  • The Central Valley, Sacramento and San Francisco Peninsula–North Bay saw the most significant changes in competitivity in 2022. All three markets were more competitive in the first four months of the year.
  • Silicon Valley was the California market that heated up the most during peak rental season, up nearly 50% compared to the first part of 2022.

California‘s booming economy is the main reason behind its appeal to renters, despite being one of the most expensive states. However, the California rental market is having trouble keeping up with demand: The pace of building new apartments has been slow, which makes finding an apartment difficult in some parts of the state.

So, in order to get a clearer idea of which markets in California were more competitive in 2022, we looked at five relevant metrics based on Yardi Systems apartment data:

  • the number of days rentals stayed vacant
  • the percentage of apartments occupied by renters
  • how many prospective renters competed for an apartment
  • the percentage of renters who renewed their leases
  • the share of new apartments completed

Using these factors, RentCafe rated each rental market in the state using a Rental Competitivity Index (RCI) during three different timeframes: the first part of the year (January to April), peak rental season (May to August) and the full year 2022. The value of each RCI shows whether a market was highly competitive (more than 90 points), competitive (between 45 and 90 points) or less competitive (less than 45 points).

The most competitive areas for renting an apartment in 2022

With record-high apartment occupancy rates and not enough new apartments to meet demand, the nation’s third-biggest state was a competitive rental market in 2022, earning an RCI of 60.9, in line with the national score of 59.9. Of California’s 12 largest markets analyzed, Orange County, San Diego and the Central Coast were the most competitive in 2022, with overall RCI scores ranging between 96.3 and 79.9.

Orange County was California’s hottest market, as well as the only one in the highly competitive category, with an overall RCI of 96.3. Nationally, it ranked eighth. The O.C. sizzled throughout the year: It had virtually no shifts in metrics, which didn't impact renter interest. Its strong economy and proximity to Los Angeles were just two of the factors that attracted new residents.

Moreover, the slow pace of apartment construction (a mere 0.6% increase in new apartments in 2022) was not enough to ease competitivity, considering the high number of people looking to call Orange County their home. Essentially, 19 candidates applied for one apartment in the area last year.

San Diego came in second, with a total score of 82.6. Notably, this location attracted more interest from renters than California’s hottest market, as an average of 22 renters competed for one apartment here in 2022. And, with 97% of its apartments occupied and more than 55% of renters deciding to renew their leases, it’s no wonder that it ranked so high in our competitivity list.

The Central Coast followed a similar path in 2022: It had an apartment occupancy of 97.2% and a lease renewal rate of 55.4%, which led to an overall RCI of 79.9. Here, increased competitivity for renters was primarily due to the low supply of new apartments. In fact, apartments in the Central Coast rented faster than those in Orange County (California’s top market) — 29 days versus 31 days.

Markets with biggest changes in competitivity from one season to another

Our research shows that half of California’s markets were hotter during rental season, with Silicon Valley recording the highest RCI score boost, while the other half saw less competitivity for rentals in that period, with the Central Valley topping the list of markets with the most significant slowdown.

The Central Valley, Sacramento and San Francisco Peninsula-North Bay recorded the most significant shifts in competitivity in 2022. All three markets were less competitive in peak rental season.

Specifically, the Central Valley received an RCI score of 81.1 for the first part of the year, when only Orange County and the Central Coast were hotter. In the first four months of the year, nearly 98% of apartments here were occupied (more than in any of California's top three markets) and there were no new ones added. In addition, 16 renters, on average, competed for one place within that timeframe.

Granted, activity slowed during the peak rental season, when competitivity decreased by 25.6%, more than in any other California market. This was due to a 0.7% share of new apartments built in the Central Valley through August (compared to zero new units added in the first four months of the year), as well as fewer renters competing for each vacant apartment (12).

Similarly, Sacramento was red hot in the first part of the year and cooler during peak rental season. It had an RCI score that dipped 17%, from 67.9 in the first months of the year to 56.4. The change was mainly due to the share of new apartments that opened during rental season — 0.9% versus zero apartments in the first months of 2022.

In addition, the higher number of prospective renters per apartment and increased apartment occupancy also helped Sacramento heat up during the first part of the year. Furthermore, renter interest in this area has increased during the pandemic. According to research by the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, Occidental College and the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, Sacramento is a top destination for people relocating from the Bay Area. In 2018-2019, roughly 150,000 people left the Bay Area. Then, as the pandemic hit in 2020, that number doubled.

The same study (which is still ongoing) also revealed that Sacramento is melding into the Bay Area, which is slowly becoming a mega-region. The main reason for this is the popularity of flexible work arrangements that allow tech employees to move further away from the office and into more affordable communities.


Surprisingly, San Francisco Peninsula-North Bay was the California market where it was easiest to rent an apartment during the peak rental season. The market was 20.3% less competitive in the summer months than it was in the first part of the year. One of the reasons for this was the low number of new apartments completed in the area through April — a share of just 0.5%, which was not enough to cover the needs of new residents. Fortunately, the share of new apartments increased to 1.7% during the peak season, which helped ease competitivity.

At the same time, the San Francisco Peninsula-North Bay area had just eight renters competing for an apartment in 2022, the smallest number in all of California. Plus, apartments here stayed on the market for 39 days in 2022 — more than in any of the other 11 markets we looked at.

Conversely, Orange County and San Diego, California’s top markets, remained hot for the entire year, with virtually no changes in competitivity throughout 2022. The differences between their RCI scores (peak rental season versus the first part of the year) were less than 1%.

Meanwhile, the Inland Empire was California’s fourth-hottest market in 2022, with an RCI of 76. The area's proximity to Los Angeles and San Diego — as well as job opportunities related to e-commerce and logistics — attracted renters, while the lack of new apartments kept the market hot throughout the year.

In the Inland Empire, an average of 21 candidates competed for one apartment in 2022, with higher numbers only seen in Eastern Los Angeles County and San Diego. In fact, Eastern Los Angeles County won this category: 27 renters competed for each vacant apartment in the area in the first part of the year versus 26 during the peak season.

Silicon Valley got fiery red in peak rental season

Silicon Valley was the California market that heated up the most in peak rental season after a 45.3% boost in its RCI compared to the first part of the year. The main reason behind this change was the increase in the number of prospective renters per apartment — 19 versus 15 in the first part of the year. Another factor was the occupancy rate for apartments, which also inched upwards during rental season, going from 95.6% in the first part of the year to 96.3%.

The job opportunities created by Big Tech are the main attraction for those looking to relocate to Silicon Valley. To that end, the area’s unemployment rate dipped to 1.8% in June — the lowest value in 30 years, according to research published by jointventure.org.

Unsurprisingly, apartments were on the market for fewer days during rental season (28) compared to the first part of the year (35). And, while construction of new apartments continued throughout the year, that was not enough to meet demand: The share of newly opened apartments increased from 0.3% in the first part of the year to 0.7% during the summer months.

Methodology

RentCafe is a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the U.S.

To compile this report, RentCafe.com’s research team analyzed Yardi Systems apartment data across 135 rental markets in the U.S. The data comes directly from market-rate large-scale multifamily properties of at least 50 units. Fully affordable multifamily properties were excluded.

The markets were ranked based on a market competitivity score. To calculate each market’s score, we used five metrics and their averages for January through August 2022: apartment occupancy rate, average total days vacant, prospective renters per vacant unit, the renewal lease rate, and the share of new apartments completed in the first eight months of 2022 compared to the overall supply as of Dec. 31, 2021.

We then compiled an average ranking by assigning a percentage weight for each metric: 30% for apartment occupancy rate, 15% for average vacant days, 15% for prospective renters per vacant unit, 30% for renewal lease rate, and 10% for the share of new apartments.

"First part of the year" refers to the timeframe between January and April 2022 and "peak rental season" refers to the timeframe between May and August 2022.

In this study, the terms "market," "area" and "location" are used interchangeably and are defined as Yardi Matrix markets.

The Central Coast market includes Paso Robles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

The Eastern Los Angeles County market encompasses Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, West Covina, Pomona, Rowland Heights, El Monte and Downey.

The Central Valley market is made up of Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto and Stockton.

The North Los Angeles - Ventura County market comprises Woodland Hills, Van Nuys, North Hollywood, Oxnard, Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Northridge, Canoga Park and Burbank.

The Western Los Angeles County market is made up of Los Angeles, Marina Del Rey, Torrance, Santa Monica, Hawthorne, Hollywood, Culver City and Inglewood.

The San Francisco Peninsula-North Bay market includes San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Mateo, Daly City, Foster City, Napa, Rohnert Park, Redwood City, Petaluma and San Rafael.

Fair use and redistribution

We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the research, graphics, and images presented in this article. When doing so, we ask that you credit our research by linking to RentCafe.com or this page, so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology. For more in-depth, customized data, please contact us at media@rentcafe.com.

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Alexandra Both is a senior creative writer with RentCafe. She has more than six years of real estate writing experience as a senior editor with Commercial Property Executive and Multi-Housing News. She is a seasoned journalist, who has previously worked in print, online and broadcast media. Alexandra has a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in Community Development.

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