Attention, Groupon Shopper: Free Rent in San Francisco

San Francisco Tenderloin (Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
Eric Risberg / Associated Press

Thanks to about 35 percent more units coming on the market in 2017 than on average over the last 20-year period, investors are offering free rent concessions to move empty apartments.

More than 50,000 new apartment units in the U.S. were rented by tenants in the quarter ending in December 2016. Despite that being six times the number in the year-earlier period, market demand was swamped by the 88,000 new apartment units completed in the same period, the highest number since the 1980s, according to MPF.

To address the supposed “chronic lack of apartment supply” following the Great Recession, Wall Street has been channeling about $6 billion a month into U.S. real-estate mutual funds and exchange-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT), according to Morningstar. It is now estimated that as a result of this massive investment, 378,000 new apartment units will be completed in 2017.

Breitbart News has chronicled that high tech communities in Silicon Valley, Seattle and Los Angeles’s Silicon Beach, which had led the nation in rent inflation for over the last five years, also saw average rents fall by about 8 percent in the first half of 2016. As we pointed out, those falling “average” rents were actually about higher-priced units plunging and low-priced rentals being stable.

The Wall Street Journal suggests that luxury apartments in New York City and San Francisco are lowering their prices because of new and even more luxurious units being completed. Many brand-new complexes that offer super high-end amenities that include rooftop decks, state-of-the-art gyms and bike rooms are offering free rent during what is called the “lease-up” period until they “stabilize” at around 90 percent occupancy.

Developers “want to get heads in beds as quickly as possible,” according to Alexander Goldfarb, a San Francisco analyst with Sandler O’Neill + Partners. He suspects that with so many buildings opening around the same time, the incentives are getting bigger and spreading to somewhat older buildings that compete with new ones.

As an example, at least four new luxury apartment buildings — Jasper, 340 Fremont, 399 Fremont and Solaire — have opened over the last 18 months within a 3-block radius of San Francisco’s trendy South of Market neighborhood, referred to as SoMa. The elite community is home to many of the city’s museums, the Moscone Conference Center, Airbnb, Pinterest, Yelp and a number of other Internet start-ups.

Despite the buildings being in “rent-up” for some time, none seem to have “stabilized” at around 90 percent occupancy, because they are all still advertising freebies for prospective renters.

You can get six weeks of free rent at Jasper and 340 Fremont; Solaire is pitching four weeks of free rent, free on-site storage and $1,000 discounts to renters who work at tech companies like Apple, Facebook and Yahoo; and 399 Fremont offers free rent and tried giving away free cross-country bikes one weekend, according the Zero Hedge blog.

Because SoMa, South Beach, Mission Bay and Potrero Hill are San Francisco’s ground zero for new luxury construction, rent concessions there are rampant. But non-luxury renters shopping on Craigslist can find plenty of free rent offers in the Tenderloin and Hayes Valley neighborhoods, and more than a dozen Bay Area cities, including Novato, Tiburon, San Mateo, Redwood City, Santa Clara, Pleasanton, San Ramon and San Jose.

MPF Vice President Jay Parsons reports that developers in New York are offering up to three months of free rent on some projects; Los Angeles landlords are offering six months of free parking; and some in Houston developers are waiving security deposits.

Parson expects little or no rent growth in urban rental markets this year. He commented: “This will be a very challenged leasing environment almost everywhere.”



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