Revealing America’s Renting Sweet Spots

Costs play a significant role in choosing a rental property. It takes more than just looking for areas with cheaper living costs or aiming for a higher wage to maintain greater living standards. Instead, for renters, the solution is frequently in the middle, finding the ideal balance between income and expenses.

According to new RentCafe research, several suburban areas are among the top “sweet spots” in terms of how much renters can get for their money.

The best city for renters to find the ideal balance between their monthly rent and essentials was Sunnyvale, California. Renters in this central Silicon Valley location earned three times the national median yearly salary, making them the highest-paid in the nation.

Surprise, Arizona was ranked as the second-best location for renters to receive the best value for their money. This is the rare situation in all 189 cities we investigated (and feasible in only five additional places) where the median income could cover four typical monthly rents. In addition, Surprise’s annual salaries were nearly twice as high as the national average.

Then came three suburbs of Washington, D.C.: Alexandria, VA (#5); Bethesda, MD (#4); and Arlington, VA (#3). Renters in these places are better able to balance their income with living expenses.

On the other end were places like Buffalo, New York (ranked #128); Milwaukee (ranked #142); Baltimore (ranked #145); Cincinnati (ranked #157); and Cleveland (ranked #174), where annual incomes were higher than average, but monthly rent and daily expenses were lower, making it challenging for renters to find a balance for improved financial health.

Top 10 Cities Where Renters Can Get the Most Out of Their Income

  1. Sunnyvale, CA
  2. Surprise, AZ
  3. Arlington, VA
  4. Bethesda, MD
  5. Alexandria, VA
  6. Westminster, CO
  7. Scottsdale, AZ
  8. Round Rock, Texas
  9. Plano, Texas
  10. Broken Arrow, OK

In terms of location, renters in the Southwest had a higher chance of becoming financially stable. To be more exact, the area’s suburban cities often paid well, although their rents were comparable to the national average. However, renters may have the hardest time making ends meet in Northeastern cities when it comes to rent and other essentials.

RentCafe research offers practical advice to tenants by illuminating the ways in which their choice of city can impact their financial stability. We devised a special scoring system for this purpose by calculating the percentage of their income that was allocated to rent and other necessities like food, electricity, and medical costs.

1. Sunnyvale, CA

Sunnyvale, California, formerly home to orchards and now a vital component of Silicon Valley, is the best location in America for renters looking to save money on their annual rent of about $146,000. The monthly rent of $3,000 was 76% higher than the national average, the median income was three times higher than the median wage in the United States, and the overall cost of basic essentials was only 28% higher than the national average. Here, the monthly cost of basic groceries, medical appointments, and other goods and services (such as a yoga class or a movie ticket) came to $1,385 in the local currency.

Sunnyvale was also the only city in the report that scored more than 90 points (93.8), which means it’s easier for renters here to strike a balance between income and expenses than it is for those in other cities.

2. Surprise, AZ

Surprise, Arizona, in the Phoenix metro area, ranked second on RentCafe’s list of the top 30 cities where renters could stretch their dollar furthest. Although average rent was in line with the national benchmark, renters in this area enjoy the seventh-highest annual median income in the nation. More specifically, tenants pay an average of $1,781 in rent and make approximately $86,000 annually. The $1,004 monthly cost for doctor appointments, basic utilities, necessities food, and other services was also less than the national average.

3. Arlington, VA

The nation’s capital is directly across the Potomac River from Arlington, Virginia, which ranked third among American communities where tenants may most out of their income. Apartment residents could easily afford the average monthly rent of just under $2,500 plus other monthly expenses for necessities, which came to $1,152, which was about the national average, with the assistance of the city’s $102,710 annual earnings. Out of 189 locations we examined, Arlington’s cost of necessities came in first for healthcare ($408) and utilities ($362), but despite this, this vibrant area managed to give the third-highest annual salary.

Arlington is one of the top cities to watch in 2024 due to increased rental demand the year before, attracting renters due to its high wages and appealing job opportunities.

4. Bethesda, MD

In fourth place was Bethesda, Maryland, another Washington, D.C., suburb. This city’s $99,315 annual income, which ranks fourth out of 189 U.S. cities in our analysis, would enable renters to cover average monthly rent of $2,684 and living expenditures of $1,093, which is comparable to the national average. However, at $404, utilities—energy and phone bills—accounted for almost half of the total cost of the basic necessities calculation in Bethesda.

5. Alexandria, VA

Not far behind was another D.C. suburb, Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria rated fifth among the places where renters may easily strike a balance between income and expenses. Its economy is similar to other cities surrounding the nation’s capital, consisting of a mix of federal agencies, business offices, and tourism. In particular, the city provided $89,845, the sixth-highest annual income among all the cities in the survey. This would be sufficient to pay the $1,174 total cost of essential requirements and the $2,068 monthly rent. The cost of utilities was just 9% more than the benchmark, even though the monthly rent was 22% higher here than it was nationwide. Additionally, Alexandria’s median income was 83% greater than the national average, meaning that renters who work here have a higher standard of life.

Southwestern Renters Get the Biggest Bang For Their Buck

In the Southwest, renters allocated a smaller portion of their income to food and basic necessities in suburban areas, rather than rent. To be more exact, wages exceeded the average, but rents remained at or below the national average. Additionally, the region earned the highest average overall score (40.9 points), suggesting that renting in these locations makes it simpler for tenants to get financial stability.

The top Southwestern cities where renters would have more financial comfort and get more out of their income were: Round Rock (#8), Plano (#9), Broken Arrow (#10), followed by Cedar Park, TX (#12); Lawton, OK (#15); Austin (#16); Allen, TX (#19); and Tulsa, OK (#25).

Renters in these cities found the cost of basics to be in line with their earnings. As a result, income for apartment occupants should be higher than the national median, and monthly rent, utility, and basic food expenditures should be lower than the national average. With the lowest average monthly rent in the area of $830 and an annual income of $42,864, Lawton stood out in particular. At $1,069 a month, the cost of basics was likewise less than the national average.

With an average score of just under 20, the Northeast was at the other end of the spectrum, indicating that renters in these cities would be spending a larger percentage of their earnings on expenses.

Choosing where to rent can be a task, but there are many hidden, affordable gems throughout the U.S.

To read the full report, including more data, charts, and methodology, click here.

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Demetria C. Lester

Demetria C. Lester is a reporter for MortgagePoint (formerly DS News and MReport) with more than eight years of writing and editing experience. She has served as content coordinator and copy editor for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register, in addition to 11 other Southern California publications. A former editor-in-chief at Northlake College and staff writer at her alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington, she has covered events such as the Byron Nelson and Pac-12 Conferences, progressing into her freelance work with the Dallas Wings and D Magazine. Currently located in Dallas, Lester is a jazz aficionado, Harry Potter fanatic, and avid record collector. She can be reached at
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