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As US Apartments Get Smaller, Atlanta, Charlotte, Boston Rank among Top Cities with Largest Rental Units

Inman Quarter Apartments in Atlanta via RENTCafe
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Highlights:

  • As of 2016, the average size of a new apartment today is 934 square feet, 8% smaller than 10 years ago
  • Studios saw the steepest decline in square footage over the last decade (-18%)
  • Atlanta, GA takes the lead as the U.S. city with the biggest rental units

It’s not uncommon to sacrifice living space for prime urban locations, especially for young professionals who want to be in close proximity to jobs, shops, and entertainment. But it’s not just downtowns that are seeing apartment sizes go down. Over the last decade, apartments have been slowly but surely shrinking in cities all across the US. According to our most recent survey of the apartment market, the average size of new apartments – those completed in 2016 – has fallen to 934 square feet, the smallest on record since 2006.

Changes in US Apartment Size 2006 – 2016

Using data from Yardi Matrix, an apartment market intelligence source and our sister company, we were able to examine and track the changes in US apartment size in buildings with at least 50 units over the last decade. While all property types have seen significant drops in size, studios have seen the steepest decline. Studio apartments built in 2006 averaged 614 sq. ft. – a decade later, studios are getting more cramped with an average size of 504 sq. ft.

Average Square Feet of New Rental Apartments in the U.S.

2010 was a turning point for real estate markets across the country. With the housing industry in recovery mode, developers temporarily closed the lid on multifamily investment, causing a significant drop in new rental stock. Not only were there fewer units delivered, but those that came online were also smaller in size – a trend that continued even after 2012 when rental markets started seeing inventory growth again. Studios dropped from 617 sq. ft. in 2010 to 508 sq. ft. in 2011. In fact, studio apartments have seen the biggest fluctuations in terms of unit size over the course of the last decade, while 2-bedroom apartments were the least volatile of all property types.

Overall, the average size of a US apartment is currently 889 square feet, irrespective of when a property was built. See the average size of an apartment in your city by checking out this table.

Not All Apartments are Created Equal: Breakdown by Region Shows Southeast Topping the Nation in Largest Unit Sizes

Southern living has become the epitome of the good life, and there’s more than one reason for that. Premier golf resorts, 24/7 waterfront entertainment, strong employment fundamentals, lower cost of living, and world-renowned cuisine – these are just a few of The South’s big draws. Plus, urban renters in the Southern States have one more thing to brag about: the biggest apartment sizes in the U.S. Rentals in the Southeast average a remarkable 974 sq. ft.

On the other end of the size spectrum, the West Coast does not spoil renters with tons of space. Apartments average 843 sq. ft. in California and 852 in other Western markets.

Average Square Feet of US Rental Apartments by Region

Western Markets See Biggest Gaps between Unit Sizes in Luxury vs. Non-Luxury Buildings

Also noteworthy, though relatively unsurprising, luxury units give renters more room to spread out with high-end apartments averaging about 988 sq. ft. Meanwhile, the average size of units in non-luxury buildings is 837 sq. ft.

Average Apartment Size of Luxury vs. Non-Luxury Units by Region

The biggest size difference between luxury and non-luxury apartments is recorded in the Western markets where a high-end apartment spans 967 sq. ft. on average whereas a rental unit in a non-luxury building averages 763 sq. ft.

For Denverites hung up on luxury housing, for example, the options are endless and come with plenty of room to house all their fancy living dreams. Upscale 2 BDR apartments in Denver average 1,133 sq. ft. while non-luxe apartments come in at about 939 sq. ft. Pricing generally follows the same trend: the larger and swankier the space, the more expensive it gets. A 2-bedroom 1,003-square-foot luxury apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhoods goes for $2,700 a month. But if you’re willing to downsize, you can rent a 2 BDR, 847-square-foot apartment in the same area for about $1,600.

Atlanta Leads the Pack as the City with the Largest Apartments in the U.S., Overall

They say everything is bigger in Texas, including housing. That’s about right and we’ve got the numbers to prove it. Plano, Houston, Irving, and Dallas have all made our top 20 list of the cities with the largest apartments in the US. But the job-centric Texas cities have been overthrown in the rankings by another Southern business hub, Atlanta, GA, which ranks highest on our list of US cities with the most sizable rental apartments. As if anyone needs another reason to move to Hotlanta – aside from the healthy job sector, enviable weather, and low cost of living, that is!

Manhattan Doesn’t Make the Smallest Apartment Size List

With a history of shrinking apartments and micro-units taking up a sizable chunk of Manhattan’s housing market – with NYC as the posterchild for living large in small spaces – everybody would expect the borough to land a spot in the tiniest apartments ranking. Well, as it turns out, there are other cities featuring much more cramped living spaces, so small that they caused Manhattan to drop off the tiniest apartment charts.

In fact, studio apartments in Manhattan span 475 sq. ft., 1-bedrooms come in at 694 sq. ft., and two-bedrooms average a reasonable 1,015 sq. ft. But that doesn’t erase the fact that Manhattan remains the nation’s tightest market with average rents reaching a whopping $4,043 per month, more than three times the national average, as Yardi Matrix data shows.

If You’re a Firm Believer in the “Less is More” Philosophy, Arizona and California are the Places for You: Tucson Holds the Teeniest Rental Homes

Expansive homes may be taken for granted by tenants in Georgia and Texas, but both Arizona and California test renters’ ability to live large in small spaces. No less than three Arizona cities – Tucson, Glendale, and Mesa – are in the top 5 cities with the tiniest apartments; they are joined by El Paso, TX and Buffalo, NY. Sunny California also made its way into the tiniest rental homes list, with no less than 4 cities – Bakersfield, Stockton, Fresno, and Chula Vista – hosting some of the smallest apartments in the nation.

The 20 Cities with the Biggest and Smallest Apartment Sizes Mapped

Apartment Size by Unit Type

When broken down by property type, Norfolk, VA, wrestles the title of the city with the largest studios from Irvine, CA, with Plano, TX following closely at no. 3. Renters may play big in Reno, NV but they live in tiny studios that average about 352 square feet. The same goes for Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, the 2nd and 3rd cities with the smallest studio apartment sizes where studios average 366 and 370 sq. ft., respectively.

US cities with largest average studio apartment size

US cities with smallest average studio apartment size

Virginia takes home the prize for the largest 1-bedroom apartment as well, this time with an average of 797 sq. ft. for 1BDR Chesapeake rentals. Atlanta, GA pops up again on the charts with an average of 786 sq. ft. for 1 BDR apartments. Scottsdale, AZ is right on its tail, with the average size for 1 BDR units at 768 sq. ft. Tucson 1 bedrooms seem to be on the smaller size when compared to the rest of the nation’s urban centers, with an average of 595 sq. ft., followed by Stockton, CA (632 sq. ft.) and Chula Vista, CA (641 sq. ft.).

US cities with largest average 1-bedroom apartment size

US cities with smallest average 1-bedroom apartment size

Atlanta, GA incontestably rules the apartment size charts when it comes to 2-bedroom rentals. Two-bedroom units featuring 1,125 square feet of living space are average for the capital city of the Peach State, adding more appeal to an already attractive housing market. Rents in Atlanta are not exactly what you’d call cheap, but they surely provide more bang for the buck than those in other major cities. Rentals in Atlanta go for an average of $1,240, with 2-bedroom apartments commanding approx. $1,295/mo, Yardi Matrix data shows. That’s less than a third of what San Franciscans shell out on a 2-bedroom apartment every month (approx. $4,400). Meanwhile, renters in Miami pay $1,617 on average for 2BDR apartments, approx. 25% more than Atlantans do.

US cities with largest average 2-bedroom apartment size

US cities with smallest average 2-bedroom apartment size

Apartment Size in the Largest U.S. Cities

Atlanta Joined by Charlotte, Boston, Jax as Super-Trendy Urban Hubs with Expansive Rental Homes

Some of the country’s most in-demand cities only offer miserly square footage, but there are a few others, like Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina, Boston, MA, Jacksonville, FL, and Dallas TX, where you get plenty of living space to loll about in.

In the graph below we’ve compared apartment sizes in the country’s 50 largest cities by population. Atlanta holds strong at no. 1, followed by Charlotte, Raleigh, and Omaha. Yes, that’s right, Omaha. As Warren Buffett put it, there’s no better place to live than Omaha. Real estate-wise, it’s actually one of the cities that offer the most bang for the buck in the current economy, with average rents hovering around $840 per month, according to data from Yardi Matrix. The average size of Omaha apartments is 928 sq. ft.

Meanwhile, Tucson, Sacramento, El Paso, Baltimore, and Phoenix apartments lead the pack as the cities with the smallest apartments overall.

The 10 Largest Cities by Population with the Largest / Smallest Unit Sizes

In Charlotte for example, you get the best of both worlds. The Queen City is brimming with professionals in the banking, accounting, and energy industries, and has some of the best paying jobs in the country in these fields. In addition to Bank of America, there are six other Fortune­500 companies headquartered in Charlotte, including Lowe’s, Nucor Steel, Duke Energy, Sonic Automotive, Sealed Air Corp., and Domtar. And then there are other major employers such as Harris Teeter Inc., Novant Health Inc., Ingersoll-Rand, and Siemens Energy Inc., so there are plenty of jobs to go around. An average rent of $1,056 a month pays for 949 square feet of living space.

Apartments May be Shrinking yet Rents are Not Dwindling One Bit

You’d normally expect rents to go downhill as units get smaller. Well, that’s not always the case. Apartment rents are breaking record after record, with the national average hitting an impressive $1,204 in May. While rental rates will moderate as new supply kicks in, this is not the kind of thing that happens overnight. In the meantime, you’ll still be paying $2,500 for a 500-square-foot studio in San Francisco.

US Average Rents May 2016

As Units Get Smaller, More and More Renters Are Turning to Mixed-Use, Amenity-Rich Developments

Many of the nation’s urban cores were in dire need of revitalization just a few years ago. Downtowns in Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Colorado Springs used to go quiet after working hours. Now they are all vibrating with city life 24/7 as apartments join businesses and commercial towers. The increasing demand for high-density housing – which more often translates into smaller-sized apartments – permitted developers to redevelop older buildings or build new ones as infill projects, thus bringing long-dormant communities back to life.

But more than that, this new wave of lifestyle-oriented apartments, specifically directed at the busy Millennials and the downsizing baby boomers, has made way for an urban renaissance that’s redefining the way we live, play, and work. Location sure beats space for a young professional working in finance or tech, or any other modern industry, and the fact that you can shop and socialize right next to where you work means you get to do more of what you want every day instead of spending precious time on the daily commute.

Space may be at a premium in key locations, but these new communities bring convenience and amenity-rich environments to the table. Rooftop decks and urban farms, yoga studios, infinity pools, and fitness centers may not have had a place in apartment buildings in the past but they are now a common sight in most new rental communities.

Eastown, for example, the largest apartment community delivered in 2015 to the Los Angeles rental market, comprises 535 rental units. Apart from a desirable location, in Hollywood, the community comes with some top-of-the line amenities including a pool and spa with lounge areas, a common room with a fireplace and a patio, a gym and fitness studio, BBQ areas, and electric vehicle charging stations. Rents at this high-profile community start at $1,925 for a 571-square-foot apartment.

Eastown Apartments for rent in Los Angeles

Average Apartment Size in the Largest U.S. Cities (Sq. Ft.)

StateCity2015 PopulationStudio1 Bedroom2 Bedroom
CALos Angeles 3,971,8835247291,043
ILChicago 2,720,5464667191,052
TXHouston
2,296,2244977271,035
NYNew York City *
1,644,5184756941,015
PAPhiladelphia
1,567,442441714974
AZPhoenix
1,563,025427666948
TXSan Antonio
1,469,8454746821,003
CASan Diego
1,394,928456688992
TXDallas
1,300,0925227051,036
CASan Jose
1,026,9084507411,041
TXAustin
931,8304687031,035
FLJacksonville
868,0314847371,082
CASan Francisco
864,8164567001,004
INIndianapolis
853,173453689983
OHColumbus
850,106390670996
TXFort Worth
833,3195167011,028
NCCharlotte
827,0975587481,052
WASeattle
684,451458681970
CODenver
682,5455017121,013
TXEl Paso
681,124393646918
MIDetroit
677,116504701992
DCWashington
672,228480717991
MABoston
667,1375367241,054
TNMemphis
655,770452710985
TNNashville
654,6104977021,046
ORPortland
632,309466674964
OKOklahoma City
631,346482700979
NVLas Vegas
623,7473667121,017
MDBaltimore
621,849485701929
KYLouisville
615,366496740994
WIMilwaukee
600,1555116871,017
NMAlbuquerque
559,121407673964
AZTucson
531,641398595907
CAFresno
520,052417690952
CASacramento
490,712497676914
MOKansas City
475,3784727221,021
CALong Beach
474,1404636741,010
AZMesa
471,825427658952
GAAtlanta
463,8785707861,125
COColorado Springs
456,568454663952
VAVirginia Beach
452,7454717571,032
NCRaleigh
451,0665077601,066
NEOmaha
443,8854777581,090
FLMiami
441,0034747201,022
CAOakland
419,2675407111,069
MNMinneapolis
410,939471694996
OKTulsa
403,505493691979
KSWichita
389,965410659963
LANew Orleans
389,6174867041,002
TXArlington
388,125474672970
OHCleveland
388,072440685951
CABakersfield
373,640449663930
FLTampa
369,0754517151,056
COAurora
359,407418682962
CAAnaheim
350,742541733978
CASanta Ana
335,4004867241,011
TXCorpus Christi
324,074487672953
CARiverside
322,424464700970
MOSt. Louis
315,685465686941
KYLexington
314,488408697994
CAStockton
305,658476632918
PAPittsburgh
304,391457694964
MNSaint Paul
300,851468721987
OHCincinnati
298,550459686953
NVHenderson
285,667N/A7551,067
NCGreensboro
285,342418721992
TXPlano
283,5585787651,084
NJNewark
281,944466662850
NELincoln
277,3484657611,056
FLOrlando
270,9345247211,051
CAChula Vista
265,757475641961
NJJersey City
264,2905707531,097
AZChandler
260,8283947521,035
INFort Wayne
260,326443663977
NYBuffalo
258,071424657843
NCDurham
257,6365217341,043
FLSt. Petersburg
257,0834487061,020
CAIrvine
256,9275867271,044
WIMadison
248,951418711995
AZGilbert
247,5427547631,005
VANorfolk
246,393591701974
NVReno
241,445352692975
NCWinston– Salem
241,218439727990
AZGlendale
240,126403649936
FLHialeah
237,069488681902
TXGarland
236,897439694968
AZScottsdale
236,8394677681,077
TXIrving
236,6075437141,017
VAChesapeake
235,4295887971,018
NVNorth Las Vegas
234,8073707471,021
CAFremont
232,206510687966
LABaton Rouge
228,5905487151,017
VARichmond
220,289477690940
IDBoise
218,281459695955
CASan Bernardino
216,108507648862

*New York City refers to Manhattan

Who is RENTCafe and How Did We Compile the Data?

  • RENTCafe is a nationwide apartment search website that enables renters to easily find apartments and houses for rent throughout the United States.
  • To compile this report, RENTCafe’s research team analyzed apartment size data across the 100 largest cities in the US. The report is exclusively based on apartment data related to buildings containing 50 or more units.
  • Apartment size data was provided by Yardi Matrix, an apartment market intelligence source and RENTCafe’s sister company which researches and reports on all multifamily properties of 50+ units across 121 markets in the United States.
  • Based on Yardi Matrix’ definition and classification of the apartment market, high-end or luxury rental properties are those that fall into the discretionary (Class A+/A) and high mid-range (Class A-/B+) class categories.
  • To compile the largest / smallest unit rankings, we have used an internal classification system that takes into account the 3 major property types: studio, one-, and two- bedroom units. The final position in the ranking of a particular city was determined by the aggregate rank of that city with respect to the average apartment size. The aggregate rank was calculated by tallying the rankings obtained for that city for the 3 individual property types.

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We encourage you and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the images in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors 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.

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About the author

Ama Otet

Ama Otet is an online content developer and creative writer for RENTCafé. She loves all things real estate and strives to live beautifully, one green step at a time. You can connect with Ama on Twitter or via email.

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