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Houston Renters Stay Put Amid Pandemic Uncertainty

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted apartment renters around the U.S. to rethink their priorities and lifestyle choices.

Some expensive markets, like San Francisco, have seen inbound migration interest drop significantly year-over-year, as more people seek affordable housing. Others have seen strong resiliency in the face of wobbly market conditions.

Interest in Houston’s rental market has remained relatively stable, according to Apartment List’s latest quarterly renter migration report. The analysis incorporated data from millions of user searches from April 1 through Aug. 10, and was conducted at the metro level, according to census-defined metropolitan areas.

Of the pool of renters looking to move between April and August, 19.3% were interested in leaving the city. That compares to 20.3% during the same time last year. 

“When it comes to renter migration, we’re finding that Houston is one of the most stable markets in the country,” Apartment List Chief Economist Igor Popov told Bisnow. “Compared with other large cities, very few renters searching for new homes are looking to leave Houston. At the same time, fewer renters are coming from out of town.”

The data showed that 17.6% of renters looking for a place to live in Houston were searching from outside the metro, compared with 20.7% a year ago. The people looking to move to Houston from elsewhere were most likely to be searching from Dallas. That market was also the most popular destination among renters looking to leave Houston.

Popov said that hits to the energy sector and slowed job growth have led to relatively few renters moving to Houston. As a result, the composition of the rental market hasn’t changed much since the pandemic began.

“Many renters are struggling to make ends meet in today’s economy, but Houston is neither seeing an exodus nor an influx of movers this summer,” Popov said.

After Dallas, Houston renters are most interested in moving to Austin and San Antonio. When it comes to inbound renter interest, New York City and San Antonio followed Dallas.

More broadly, across the country’s 50 largest metros, inbound migration dropped from 31.1% to 28.8%, year-over-year. Relative outbound migration stayed essentially flat, dipping slightly from 24.3% to 24.2%. 

The data indicated that more renters are choosing to either search locally or search in smaller markets outside of the 50 largest cities that typically dominate search volume.