Renters more satisfied in many pricey U.S. cities

Associated Press and staff reports

High rents are worth it.

At least that's the sentiment of apartment dwellers in New York, San Francisco and Washington, who say they're more satisfied living in those cities than do renters in far more affordable areas such as Milwaukee, Albuquerque and Detroit.

An apartment dweller on Woodward watches the start of the M-1 Rail construction last year. Rental demand has surged in Detroit.

The finding comes from a survey released Thursday by Apartment List, a San Francisco-based company that helps renters find homes. It dovetails with other evidence that people are spending more on rent, avoiding home ownership that comes with a steep down payment.

Tenants in the most expensive cities expressed more confidence in the local economy, felt safer from crime and enjoyed the parks, recreation and nightlife, according to the survey of more than 18,000 renters.

Detroit, which the survey said had an average rental rate of $610, had the poorest satisfaction ratings, while cities like San Francisco (average rent of $4,250), Washington D.C. and New York City earned perfect or near perfect ratings for satisfaction.

"These are all places that are very, very expensive," said Andrew Tam, vice president of data science at Apartment List. "It's this combination of having excellent job opportunities and an amazing lifestyle."

Cheaper rent proves to be a poor predictor of satisfaction, Tam said. Milwaukee, where rent for a two-bedroom averages $960 a month, earned a C -. Albuquerque ($750 a month) received a C-. Detroit ($610) flunked with an F

Detroit is still one of the best places in the country to buy versus rent. The median home price in Detroit is $38,000 while the median rent is $757, looking at all units, said Trulia Housing Economist Ralph McLaughlin. But that hasn't stopped the renters.

Ryan Cooley, owner of O'Connor Realty in Corktown, said rentals used to be part of his business, but now they are few and far between because of the demand.

"Landlords don't really need to pay us commissions to get their places rented. It's been that way for the last 18 months or 2 years," said Cooley. "We get tons of phone calls for people inquiring to see if we have things for rent. I'm usually apologizing because I can't help people."

The Albert Capitol Park building, above, broke the $2 per square foot mark last year for rentals in downtown Detroit.

Demand for apartments in Detroit is also causing a surge in construction permits, reflecting the city's growing attraction to people who want to live and work here.

According to a report released this month by the seven-county Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, apartment construction permits increased by 65 percent in the region in 2014. Detroit had the most new multi-unit construction permits pulled: 732.

Satisfaction varies by the individual and where they are renting. Some renters were quick to tout Detroit's charms.

Jax Anderson has lived in cities all over the country — Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville — but moving to Detroit has been a wonderful experience for her. "I love living in Detroit," said the professional video editor who lives near Southwest Detroit. "The area I'm in, not a lot is happening, but I can still ride my bike a mile and a half up the road and go to all these awesome small businesses and restaurants."

Anderson pays $650 a month, and she says she enjoys being part of the burgeoning artist community.

"The difference between other cities and Detroit, everything is so accessible," she said. "There's no dividing line. Everyone is willing to be a part of the city together."

The Apartment List survey appears to reflect the adage that you "get what you pay for," said Tam. The higher prices point to strong demand from renters in cities with solid job markets and cultural and recreational amenities but also limited supplies of apartments. Renter priorities do shift with children. For parents, safety tends to edge out the local economy as the top factor.

For Diana Ivezaj, who has been living in a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown for a year and a half paying $475 a month, downtown Detroit does provide the amenities she wants.

"The building isn't brand new, or super fancy, but it's perfect for me as a student right now," said Ivezaj, who is finishing a degree in nursing at the University of Detroit Mercy. "There's so much to do here: I've got the DIA, the Detroit Science Center, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Museum and African American History ... it's all here."

After getting her first degree from Wayne State University, Ivezaj moved back to the suburbs, but said she missed the excitement of Midtown too much to stay away for long.

"When I graduated and moved back, it felt so different, boring, no culture," she said. "So when I decided to pursue nursing as a second degree and got accepted into the program at the University of Detroit Mercy, it was the perfect excuse to move back."

Detroit News reporter Lauren Abdel-Razzaq contributed to this report