CNN Money— Renters beware: Double-digit rent hikes may be coming soon.

Already, rental vacancy rates have dipped below the 10% mark, where they had been lodged for most of the past three years.
“The demand for rental housing has already started to increase,” said Peggy Alford, president of Rent.com. “Young people are starting to get rid of their roommates and move out of their parent’s basements.”
By 2012, she predicts the vacancy rate will hover at a mere 5%. And with fewer units on the market, prices will explode.
Rent hikes have averaged less than 1% a year over the past decade, according to Commerce Department statistics, adjusted for inflation. Now, Alford expects rents to spike 7% or so in each of the next two years — to a national average that will top $800 per month.
In the hottest rental markets, the increases will likely top the 10% mark annually for the next couple of years, according to Lesley Deutch of John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
In San Diego, she anticipates San Diego rents will rise more than 31% by 2015. In Seattle rents will climb 29% over that period; and in Boston, they may jump between 25% and 30%.
Now that the recession is easing, many of these young people are ready to find new digs, mostly as renters, not owners. Plus, the foreclosure crisis continues unabated, and the millions losing their homes are looking for new places to live.
Apartment developers many not be able to keep up with this heightened demand, which will force prices upwards, according to Chris Macke, a real estate analyst with CoStar, which tracks multi-family housing trends.
“There will be an envelope of two or three years,” said Macke, “when the rise in demand for rentals will exceed the industry’s ability to meet it.”

When the cost of owning homes falls well below the costs of renting them, more people will buy.

“That’s always been the biggest competition for rentals,” said Deutch.

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