Homebuyers Are Giving up, Face an Expensive Rental Market

Cramped in a one-bedroom, new parents Kristina and David Mahon were desperate to buy a larger home. But after scouring the Pompano Beach, Florida market for nearly a year (and losing out on 20 houses in the process), the pair eventually gave up.

Now, the couple — with a 10-month old baby in tow, no less — are renting, a decision Kristina says they felt “forced” into.

“I feel like I’m wasting money for something that’s not mine,” Kristina says. The rental“options were very limited, and the prices were on the high side of what we were comfortable spending on a rental.”

The Mahons’ is a common storyline these days, according to those in the industry. Burned-out house hunters are tired of bidding wars, rising prices and dwindling options and are bowing out of the purchase market, opting to rent instead.

“It’s common given the current market and environment that we are in,” says Kaley Tuning, the Native Realty agent who worked with the Mahons. “It just becomes frustrating for the everyday buyer. I’ve had buyers bid upwards of $40,000 over asking price and still get outbid.”

Unfortunately, the pivot to renting isn’t always easy. While the move may afford frustrated buyers time to wait out the competitive housing market, it often means entering an equally hot rental scene — one where rising rents and dwindling supply are growing concerns.

According to Realtor.com, median national rents grew a whopping 11.5% between August 2020 and August 2021. And rent applications? Those are up as much as 95% in some cities, according to apartment listing platform RentCafe.

For hopeful homeowners, it’s made for a unique catch-22 that’s as frustrating as it is costly.

Rents are on the rise

It’s no secret the housing market’s been hot this year. The purchase market has boomed in nearly every corner of the nation since last spring. Home prices are up 17% over the year, and inventory, while improving, is still near record lows.

The rental picture has been more mixed, though. At the start of the pandemic, vacancies in big cities rose and prices dropped, while demand for suburban rentals skyrocketed. Now, rents are bouncing back across the country, reaching well above pre-pandemic levels in many areas.

According to Realtor.com, the typical rent now clocks in at $1,633 per month — $169 more than this time last year and almost $200 more than 2019’s numbers. And in nearly half of the country’s biggest cities? Monthly starter home payments are more affordable than average rents.

The hot housing market has a lot to do with this spike in rent costs. With rising home prices and limited for-sale listings, more and more buyers are stepping back. This puts pressure on rental inventory and drives up rents.

As Lisa Harris, an agent at RE/MAX Center in Braselton, Georgia, explains, “Fewer homes listed for sale and much higher prices for them have kept many want-to-be buyers in their rental units, taxing the rental supply.”

The pandemic plays a role, too. Eviction bans have kept many non-paying renters in place, tying up units for much of the last year. While the CDC’s eviction moratorium was shot down late last month, the experience has made many landlords warier than ever.

“Not only have the prices increased, but the demand on tenant screening seems to be getting much more stringent,” Harris says. “Landlords are seeking tenants with higher credit scores, higher deposits, no pets, a clean criminal history and more.”