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One Year Later: Pandemic Shifts Renters’ Priorities as ‘More Space’ Beats ‘Cheaper’, Survey Shows

One year into the pandemic, people are looking for better deals with open-air amenities and more living space – preferably in the city they already live in. These are the results of a recent RentCafe survey on how renters’ preferences have changed since the COVID-19 outbreak.

With all the talk about working from home nowadays, you might think that things like internet speed or a home office top the priority list of people browsing for new rentals. However, it seems as though renters are coping with the monotony of spending most of their time at home by looking for a change in scenery, more space, open-air amenities and better local deals.

More than 10,000 people participated in the survey while looking for an apartment on In particular, respondents shared how their preferences had changed after a year of staying at home, what their main concern was while moving, or how the pandemic had affected their rental selection process. The survey showed that lifestyle improvement was the main motivator for those looking to rent now, as the top features people search for in an apartment after one year of living in a pandemic are open-air amenities (21%) and more space (20%).

This comes in contrast to the March 2020 renter survey, when the top renter preference was the price and the top concern was safety. And, while plans and preferences may have changed since last March and the first stay-at-home orders, one thing has remained the same – the optimistic, carry-on attitude of the average renter.      

Better deals, more space, same place

It wasn’t just renting preferences that were heavily focused on lifestyle improvement. The reasons for moving were within the same spectrum, as well. For instance, the opportunity to get a better deal was the top reason for moving for 29% of respondents, while the second-most cited reason for a quarter of respondents was the need for a change of scenery.

Granted, for most of us, finding adequate housing remains a priority regardless of exterior factors – which could be pinned on the renter’s need for stability. The survey also showed that 90% of respondents were looking for long-term rentals, most preferring to remain in the same city (48%). This  shows that improving housing conditions – not drastic change – is the goal.

The survey also revealed that space and open-air amenities were more important than work-from-home amenities. In fact, only 4% of renters chose to move because they could now be more flexible by working remotely. Likewise, in terms of apartment amenities that became more important during these past months, 10% prioritized a good internet connection, while only 5% reported needing a home office.

COVID ‘rentsilience’: Sticking to the plan, regardless

Of the survey respondents looking for an apartment to move into now, one-third (34%) had moved once before during the past 12 months – and most of them did so because of a pandemic-related reason.

Looking at those who are just moving now, 33% said that they didn’t move earlier because of the pandemic. This means that 67% of the renters currently looking for a new apartment are committed to making this change now, regardless of the COVID-19 situation. We witnessed the same carry-on attitude back in March 2020, when 60% of respondents had no intention of postponing their move due to the pandemic, while 56% planned to carry on with their moving plans despite the pandemic.

First-wave movers, driven mostly by necessity

After months of staring at the same walls, it’s understandable that some people want to make a move now, if only for a change of scenery. However, many of those who moved back in the spring of 2020 seemed to have done so out of need – not because they wanted to. More precisely, their reasons for moving during those uncertain early days of the pandemic were related to their lease being up or feeling financially insecure.

Likewise, an expiring lease was the main reason for many people who have already made a move during the pandemic, while one of their biggest concerns was whether they’d be able to pay rent during this time (32%). Asked what they’d do differently this time around, 34% said they would look for something cheaper.

A stronger sense of safety than last year

Undoubtedly, moving in times like these poses various concerns regarding safety – whether that’s during the entire moving process, the specific health standard of the new home or concerns about the risk level of the new area. And, overall, people feel more secure about moving now than they did at this time last year.

For example, while 18% of those who participated in the March 2020 survey said they were concerned about whether it was safe to move at that time, only half share that same concern today. Digging a little deeper into the numbers, we also found that 9% were now concerned about the hygiene standard of the new home, compared to 15% last year. Conversely, 8% of those surveyed now considered living alone for health reasons, whereas only 4% wanted to do so back in March of last year.

Twelve months apart, both RentCafe surveys have shown that, whether by choice or necessity, people keep on moving. And, as we enter the second year of the pandemic, spending time at home has become the norm – prompting increasing numbers of renters to look for better deals and amenities that make it more pleasant to be there.


RentCafe is a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States. The data is based on a survey among 10,699 respondents in the U.S., that ran between February 17 and 22 2021 on

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Alexandra Ciuntu
Alexandra is a creative writer and researcher for RentCafe. With a background in e-learning content writing and a passion for knowledge-sharing platforms, she's covered topics from prop-tech to renters insurance to interior design tips. Very familiar with the renter lifestyle herself, Alexandra enjoys researching and writing about renter demographic shifts and residential real estate market trends as much as she loves writing about how to get along with roommates. You can connect with Alexandra via email. Alexandra’s work includes collaborations with financial and business publications. Her articles have been featured in several national and international online publications, including the New York Times, Barrons, Inman, Forbes, Architectural Digest, Marketwatch, Bisnow, and Curbed. Her educational background includes a B.A. in Japanese and English and an M.A. in Journalism and Cultural Studies.

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