What You Need to Earn to Afford a Two-Bedroom Apartment in 10 Major Cities

“The rent is too damn high.” Former New York City mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan may have been thinking of the Big Apple when he named his fleeting but dearly departed political party, but thanks to a new study from financial data analysis firm SmartAsset, the entire country has a new rallying cry.


The firm released a study analyzing the incomes necessary to comfortably afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in 15 major cities. It looks like it’s time to find $216,129 under your couch cushions every year if you’d like to move to a two-bedroom in San Francisco.

SF tops the list at $216,129 expected in rent annually, with NYC ($158,229), Los Angeles ($145,629), Boston ($120,900) and Washington, D.C. ($119,271) depressingly not far behind. In fact, rents are rising fastest in the West and Southwest, with Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas seeing the highest increases over the previous year. Only three cities (New York, Philadelphia and Boston) saw any decline in rents, but none more than half a percent. Not exactly cause for celebration.

SmartAsset calculated this terrible news using a 28 percent rent-to-income ratio, similar to the 30 percent or less the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses to determine housing affordability. After coming to terms with our harsh new rental reality, the question remains: What can you actually get with these salaries, and for these average rents? While ours was not an exhaustive search (and we should note that many people will be paying for these places with two incomes, which can reduce the monthly rental pain), we combed Craigslist and Padmapper for examples of what you can expect to get at the average rent for 10 cities.

Note: This is not representative of every single apartment in these cities. Your mileage may vary.

1. San Francisco

Average rent for a two bedroom: $5,043

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $216,129

What you'll get:

This SoMA spot has a great location, and a balcony. Sure, said balcony is made of concrete, and the view is of a train station, but what city dweller doesn’t dream of outdoor space? It also has two bathrooms, so even if you’re paying $2,500 per bedroom, at least the price comes with the ability to shower whenever you damn well please. Bedrooms can best be described as adequate.

2. New York

Average rent for a two bedroom: $3,692

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $158,129

What you’ll get:

Some New Yorkers felt a flicker of schadenfreude when San Francisco overtook the Big Apple for the dubious honor of most expensive city for renters in the country. They shouldn’t get too comfortable. This unit may have an enviable West Village location, but those windows have seen better days, and the real estate agency is confident enough in this crazy market to show the room complete with construction tape.  

3. Los Angeles

Average rent for a two bedroom: $3,398

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $145,629

What you’ll get:

While you’ll be paying a premium for that year-round sunshine, you get more for your money in terms of location, space and amenities in Los Angeles than in some other cities on the list. This place has crown moldings, in-unit washer and dryer, hardwood floors, and a bathroom that fits a separate shower and bathtub. Who knew such wonders existed?

4. Boston

Average rent for a two bedroom: $2,821

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $120,900

What you'll get:

 

The kitchen is more like a corner, and the fireplaces are merely decorative, but the bedrooms are spacious, and at least you'll have wonderful light in that small kitchen. It's also a great location.

5. Washington, D.C.

Average rent for a two bedroom: $2,783

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $119,271

What you'll get:

D.C. rents have gone up enough that brokers can get away with stretching the definition of a two-bedroom. This one is a 1.5 bedroom, the .5 being a den that the listing is pretty confident could fit a queen bed. And it’s got a window, even, which will incite extreme jealousy in your San Francisco friends. Plus there’s an in-unit washer and dryer and access to a roof deck. Imagine the barbecues!

6. Seattle 

Average rent for a two bedroom: $2,293

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $98,271

What you’ll get:

This place has a large living room, good location, a fireplace and decent-sized bedrooms. Seattle rents may be going up, but so far, at least, your money will go further than in New York or San Francisco.

7. Miami

Average rent for a two bedroom: $2,107

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $90,300

What you'll get:

That kitchen is so beautifully lit, even the most cooking phobic among us can imagine ourselves flipping pancakes on a Sunday morning. Both bedrooms are large, there are plenty of closets and even if you’re not a fan of the palm trees painted on the living walls, you may like the real ones in the garden.

8. Chicago

Average rent for a two bedroom: $1,775

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $76,071

What you'll get:

The building is an impersonal high-rise, but this apartment has huge bedrooms and a big kitchen, plus access to a roof deck and a gym. While the average rent for a two-bedroom might be $1,775, a recent search revealed plenty of three bedrooms around that price. Three! Why isn’t everyone and their mom fleeing to the Midwest? Are the winters really that bad? Is there another terrible secret that is keeping the prices reasonable?

9. Philadelphia

Average rent for a two bedroom: $1,519

Salary SmartAsset calculated you’ll need to afford it: $65,100

What you'll get: 

In Philly, $1,550 a month gets you 1,000 square feet, a spacious living room with great light, and two great bedrooms. The job market may not be red hot, but you don’t have to work nearly as much as you would in nearby New York, which might be why there are so many NYC transplants here.

10. Dallas

Average rent for a two bedroom: $1,463

Salary you’ll need to afford it: $62,700 

What you’ll get:

Dallas’ average market rents increased at a faster rate than all but two of the big cities in SmartAsset’s study, which means young renters bent on Texas may want to get there as soon as possible. Still, for between $1,400 and $1,500, you get at least 1,000 square feet, two bedrooms, a yard and a garage. 

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