Top 30 Cities: Price to Rent & Price to Income Ratios (2011)

By request, here’s an update to my table of housing stats for the top 30 largest cities in the country. Actually this time it’s the top 31, since Las Vegas got ousted from #30 by Oklahoma City the last time I did this list (in late 2010). Also of note: Detroit’s ongoing dramatic decline in population caused it to fall from the eleventh-largest city last time to the eighteenth-largest this time around. At this rate Seattle will be bigger than Detroit in just another few years.

All of the data below is based on official Census Bureau estimates for July 2011 (the latest data available). Note that these numbers are for the cities proper, not the whole metro area.

The “price” column represents the median home value, the “rent” column is the median monthly rent, and “income” is the median household income.

  • “P/R” is the median home sale price divided by the annual median rent (“rent” * 12). Higher numbers mean home prices are more expensive relative to rents.
  • “P/I” is the median home sale price divided by the median household income. Higher numbers mean home prices are more expensive relative to incomes.
  • “I/R” is the median household income divided by the annual median rent. Lower numbers mean rents are more expensive relative to incomes.

By default the table is sorted by population. Click on any column header to sort by that column.

City State Pop. Land Density Price Rent Income P/R P/I I/R
New York NY 8,244,910 302.6 27,247 $490,900 $1,063 $49,461 38.5 9.9 3.9
Los Angeles CA 3,819,702 469.1 8,143 $438,300 $1,033 $46,148 35.4 9.5 3.7
Chicago IL 2,707,120 227.2 11,915 $228,300 $789 $43,628 24.1 5.2 4.6
Houston TX 2,145,146 599.6 3,578 $122,100 $667 $42,877 15.3 2.8 5.4
Philadelphia PA 1,536,471 135.1 11,373 $142,000 $691 $34,207 17.1 4.2 4.1
Phoenix AZ 1,469,471 516.7 2,844 $137,500 $685 $43,960 16.7 3.1 5.3
San Antonio TX 1,359,758 407.6 3,336 $112,300 $658 $42,613 14.2 2.6 5.4
San Diego CA 1,326,179 325.2 4,078 $429,200 $1,201 $60,797 29.8 7.1 4.2
Dallas TX 1,223,229 340.5 3,592 $122,800 $661 $40,585 15.5 3.0 5.1
San Jose CA 967,487 176.5 5,481 $540,800 $1,297 $76,593 34.7 7.1 4.9
Jacksonville FL 827,908 747.0 1,108 $141,200 $704 $44,802 16.7 3.2 5.3
Indianapolis IN 827,609 365.1 2,267 $116,300 $606 $39,015 16.0 3.0 5.4
Austin TX 820,611 297.0 2,763 $217,700 $760 $49,987 23.9 4.4 5.5
San Francisco CA 812,826 46.9 17,342 $719,800 $1,361 $69,894 44.1 10.3 4.3
Columbus OH 797,434 217.2 3,672 $127,000 $626 $40,463 16.9 3.1 5.4
Fort Worth TX 758,738 342.2 2,217 $120,300 $634 $47,399 15.8 2.5 6.2
Charlotte NC 751,087 242.3 3,100 $167,400 $710 $50,177 19.6 3.3 5.9
Detroit MI 706,585 138.8 5,093 $50,200 $547 $25,193 7.6 2.0 3.8
El Paso TX 665,568 255.3 2,607 $120,200 $597 $40,702 16.8 3.0 5.7
Memphis TN 652,050 315.1 2,069 $96,000 $591 $34,960 13.5 2.7 4.9
Boston MA 625,087 48.4 12,907 $364,300 $1,118 $49,081 27.2 7.4 3.7
Seattle WA 620,778 83.9 7,402 $420,400 $943 $61,037 37.2 6.9 5.4
Denver CO 619,968 153.3 4,044 $247,800 $772 $47,371 26.7 5.2 5.1
Baltimore MD 619,493 80.9 7,653 $154,400 $722 $38,721 17.8 4.0 4.5
Washington DC 617,996 61.4 10,065 $422,400 $1,131 $63,124 31.1 6.7 4.7
Nashville TN 609,644 504.0 1,210 $161,600 $656 $42,639 20.5 3.8 5.4
Louisville KY 602,011 385.1 1,563 $138,300 $552 $42,019 20.9 3.3 6.3
Milwaukee WI 597,867 96.1 6,220 $131,300 $613 $33,122 17.8 4.0 4.5
Portland OR 593,820 133.4 4,450 $275,500 $768 $47,033 29.9 5.9 5.1
Oklahoma City OK 591,967 607.0 975 $135,200 $558 $42,995 20.2 3.1 6.4
Las Vegas NV 589,317 135.8 4,340 $153,200 $803 $46,995 15.9 3.3 4.9

Here are the averages weighted by population:

  • Median Home Price: $293,638
  • Median Rent: $861
  • Median Income: $46,731
  • Price to Rent: 26.1
  • Price to Income: 6.0
  • Income to Rent: 4.7

As of 2011, Seattle had the seventh most-expensive home prices relative to incomes, the twenty-third most-expensive rents compared to incomes, and the third highest price to rent ratio.

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    X says:

    “Land” units are inconsistent. Seattle at 217 is km^2, Memphis at 302 is sq mi.

  2. 2
    jlb says:

    Do you know the methodology they use for calculating median prices and rents? (Do they both include SFH and apartments?) The Seattle numbers seem strange to me.

    Maybe it’s just because the apartment you can rent for $943 is nothing like what you can buy for $420,400, especially when you limit it to the metro area.

    I realize that the P/R is not supposed to be about available listings, but I just went to an apartment search for all of Seattle and put the listed median as the maximum price and it eliminated about 80% of the listings. This makes me wonder exactly how useful these ratios are if they don’t reflect availability–though I only checked one website.

  3. 3
    The Tim says:

    RE: X @ 1 – Argh, you’re right. Looks like I totally goofed and grabbed the square kilometers instead of square miles for Seattle when I filled out that column originally.

    I’ve corrected it, and I also just checked all of the cities over again as some of them have annexed a little more space since I first made this table a few years ago. Thanks for catching that.

  4. 4
    Matt the Engineer says:

    RE: jlb @ 2 – That didn’t seem right to me either. I have a friend that’s a single mom right at median income, and she’s renting a house for $1,500. Of course, being median income is probably a bit high for renters (who probably make less on average than owners). But there’s a lot of space between a $1,500 rental and a $943 rental.

  5. 5
    Matt the Engineer says:

    It looks like the 2011 ACS Survey data lists Seattle’s median gross rent at $1,003.

  6. 6
    Basho says:

    There is plenty of housing available in Seattle for less than $1,000 a month. There is a ton of housing that is never advertised online. Many smalltime landlords rent through word of mouth/sticking a sign on the building. Smalltime landlords also tend not to price as aggressively as property managers hired by institutional investors; they don’t want to deal with the cost, hassle, and risk of tenant turnover.

  7. 7
    David B. says:

    Regarding those average rents, for San Francisco and any other place that has rent control, they are highly misleading if you’re thinking of moving to such a place. As a new tenant, you will end up spending *at least* twice that, because rents can rise to market rate with each vacancy, and all the long-time tenants under rent control pull the average figures way down.

  8. 8
    MM says:

    Another view is PITI / cost of owning to rent cost. It’s much easier to justify buying today.

    14. [of 20] Seattle: Renting is 74 percent of the cost of owning, above the historical level of 55 percent and the tipping point of 60 percent.

  9. 9
    Mike says:

    Income to price is probably the more reliable metric.

    Rent/Price probably makes more sense in some locations like NY and maybe SF where the “owned” property is more heavily weighted to condos or townhomes and the age/quality of the rental and owned stock is more comparable. I don’t get how a comparison of what are largely 1950s-1970s fairly ghetto apartment complexes in Seattle or what tend to be slumloard house rentals to single family homes is really all that relevant. It’s like saying you pay more to buy a car than to rent a bike, it doesn’t really tell you much.

  10. 10
    MM says:

    RE: Mike @ 9

    Consider two options:
    1) Rent a bike for $150/mo
    2) Own a car and pay $200/mo for the loan

    It’s easy to justify the extra $50/mo you spent on car. If the bike rent was $50/mo then you would think more what to use.

    The same is with housing:
    1) Rent a 2BR/1BA condo for $1500/mo (75% of PITI)
    2) Own a 4BR/2.5BA house for $2000/mo PITI

    Many more people are going to buy a house rather than rent. This is one of the reason why we have frenzy in the market.

    Again the situation would be different with $800/mo rent.

  11. 11
    Azucar says:

    Wow – I didn’t realize how cheap Detroit is! You can buy a whole neighborhood there for what a house costs in Seattle (well, a small cul-de-sac with 8 houses). Too bad it would be in Detroit, though.

  12. 12
    2kt says:

    Tim, a more useful data would be if you provided info about median sale price per sqf for both apartments and houses and median rental costs per sqf as well. The current dataset shows the trend, but it is completely useless otherwise.

  13. 13
    Mike says:

    The numbers for price and rent are not apples to apples. I currently own a rental condo in LA that would sell for 15 times rent. I also recently bought a SFH in Metro Phoenix that is rented out for $850 and I paid $100k – for a ratio of 9.8.

    The Trulia ratios seem pretty accurate, but the data is one year old.

  14. 14
    Mike says:

    RE: Matt the Engineer @ 4

    I live in a neighborhood with over 85% home ownership, and the median income is about $90k. Probably 25% of the homes in the neighborhood are actually affordable at that income level. The explanation seems to be that there are a lot of very old people still living here, and they’re making much less than the median income. They also have no mortgage.

    I suspect the 15% renting are working, and earning more than many owners. The same owners bringing down the median income!

  15. 15
    Andy Fulton says:

    It probably is no surprise that many of the cities on this list that have low rents, like Dallas, Houston and even Detroit, are predicted to have booming real estate markets in the next couple years (click on my name to see an infographic on this subject).

    Also, it’s kind of crazy that there are still plenty of cities (San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, L.A., NYC, San Diego) that have higher rents than Seattle. Here I was thinking we were at (or near the top) in terms of cost of renting.

  16. 16
    Mike from #9 says:

    RE: Andy Fulton @ 15 – Your last observation is sort of the point I was trying to make. Rents here seem high and it is hard to believe we aren’t second or third on the list only behind NYC or SF. The problem is that you are probably looking at rentals in the more desirable locations where you might at least be able to consider sending your kid to public schools.

    Seattle north of Ship Canal (or SLU now with all the new in-fill) but south of 85th has some stupid crazy rents, and when you compare the cost of buying in that area to the cost of renting it really doesn’t look that bad on the buy side (super low rates certainly don’t hurt).

    That was my point on the apples to oranges comparison, I think you’re seeing rental costs for Seattle that are disproportionately reflective of less desirable hoods where there are more rental units and purchase prices that are disproportionately high because more of the owned units are in the desirable areas. All cities have better and worse areas, but Seattle is still one of the most divided/gentrified cities I’ve ever seen.

  17. 17
    David Losh says:

    RE: Andy Fulton @ 15

    Yeah, Active Rain is a Real Estate sales hype site. There is nothing there that remotely resembles the truth about where the housing market is headed.

  18. 18
    David Losh says:

    RE: Mike from #9 @ 16

    Because I have a full five comments on this thread, i’m going to address this rent thingy seperately.

    Did you look at Ballard North of Market up to 65th? Did you see the number of apartments being built there? How many do you think there are? It’s kind of like guessing the number of marbles in a jar.

    There are thousands of rental units coming on the market.

    The bigger companies that have already established properties have built up cash reserves, improved the properties, and are in a better position to weather any kind of rent decreases.

    The smaller investors may find it harder to attract quality renters.

    I see rents decreasing, and properties becoming less desirable to hold onto.

  19. 19
    Fred says:

    Having lived in NYC for 8 years, I cannot think of an area with an average of less than $1k rent. Certainly not sizable enough to wash away all the apartments in the $2k plus segment and get an average that is hardly higher than Seattle.

    Something’s not adding up. Are you considering all of NY state? Or am I missing something?

  20. 20
    Fred says:

    Even with the inclusion of Staten Island – it would need a number of homes equal to all of the other boros and to average $500 to get near $1060/month number. And the above link is 2 years old, so it’s fair to say that the numbers have at least stayed the same, if not gone up. There has not been a substantial drop in rental prices.

  21. 21

    […] at major technology companies (lower at pre-Series A startups), and only increases from there. The ratio of rent to income is not so dissimilar from Washington, D.C., or New York City, other cities with large numbers of aspiring young […]

  22. 22

    […] an alternate measure — the ratio of median rent to median household income — shows that Detroit is among the least affordable cities. This metric isn’t perfect either (as the rest of the article will demonstrate), but […]

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