The top 5 Florida cities where luxury apartments are most affordable

Think about features like “laundry, parking, [and] storage.”


Thousands of Americans have been flocking to Florida — and the Covid pandemic hasn't dampened the trend.

Data from Florida's November 2020 Demographic Estimating Conference, cited by the The Wall Street Journal, shows that between April 2019 and April 2020, Florida's population grew 1.83%, or by a total of 387,479 people. Between April 2020 and April 2021, it's projected to increase by another 1.38%, or more than 297,850 people.

With all that demand, big Florida cities like Miami have become some of the nation's most expensive places to rent, according to Apartment Guide's March 2021 rent report. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Miami is $2,193, compared to the national one-bedroom average of $1,561. Jacksonville, the state's fourth-largest metro area, saw an 18.5% year-over-year increase in average rent from 2020 to 2021; Orlando, the third-largest, saw rents rise 8.1%.

Still, there are some Florida cities where renters can find a spacious, amenity-packed apartment without paying an arm and a leg.

Apartment search site RentCafé and its sister business development and asset management company, Yardi Matrix, recently compiled data on the best cities across the U.S. for renting a luxury apartment on the cheap. They focused on areas where the average apartment rent was lower, the average square footage higher, and a larger proportion of local apartments were deemed "high-end," with amenities like great views, modern fixtures, and prime locations near restaurants and entertainment options.

The resulting list was dominated by Southern cities and towns, with several Florida cities ranking in the first tier. Here are the top five from the Sunshine State.

1. Panama City

Average rent: $1,216      
Average square footage: 1,113
Share of high-end apartments: 37%

2. Winter Haven

Average rent: $1,107      
Average square footage: 1,022
Share of high-end apartments: 52%

3. Ocala

Average rent: $1,317       
Average square footage: 1,092
Share of high-end apartments: 55%

4. Lakeland

Average rent: $1,327         
Average square footage: 1,082
Share of high-end apartments: 45%

5. New Port Richey

Average rent: $1,215
Average square footage: 1,010
Share of high-end apartments: 60%

Remote work trend drives demand for space, amenities

Over the past year, Covid has transformed many Americans' homes into their offices. In January, a Gallup poll found that 56% of U.S. workers described themselves as "always" or "sometimes" working remotely.

While some workers have rejoiced at the prospect of shorter, cheaper commutes and more time with family and pets, there can be a psychological toll to spending so much time at home. In a survey last July, job-search site Monster found that more than two-thirds, or 69% of remote workers said they were experiencing burnout while on the clock at home.

"There is a decrease in privacy, ability to find space for quiet reflection, and sunlight, all of which affect mood," psychotherapist Jenny Maenpaa told RentCafé this week. Those factors "decrease sleep, productivity, and [the] ability to process emotions — a recipe for increased anxiety."

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That's why "it's important to create a separation in your household that includes a space that's dedicated to work," Angelina Darrisaw, CEO, and founder of C-Suite Coach, previously told Grow. "Then, when you're off the clock and you're not thinking about work, you also have a space that you can enjoy, and you can feel like you're at home, and you can have that distance."

That can be a hard ask if your living space feels tight and you're working long hours bent over a kitchen counter or coffee table. Having a separate home office, or access to an in-building amenity like a business center or poolside loungers with Wi-Fi, can often make a big difference.

How to find the right apartment for your budget

With more space and amenities, however, comes a cost. All five of the Florida cities listed above have below-average rents compared to the national average for a one-bedroom apartment as of March. But even at a discount, a huge apartment may not be the best fit for your budget.

"I always encourage people to live below their means," says Chelsea Hale, a licensed real estate salesperson at Triplemint. "If you are renting an apartment, just because you qualify for something that is $5,000 a month, doesn't mean you should spend that much. Cutting back on rent is a great way to cut back on monthly costs without noticing a lot of sacrifice."

Janie Coffey, a real estate broker and general contractor in Florida, encourages renters to identify their biggest priorities — and the luxuries they're willing to live without to save money. "For some, the tiniest of apartments in the best location might be their dream," Coffey previously told Grow. "For others, a large place with room and privacy might be theirs."

Just because you qualify for something that is $5,000 a month doesn't mean you should spend that much.
Chelsea Hale
licensed real estate salesperson, Triplemint

Dig deeply into what is important to you, she says, and don't forget to weigh more mundane, but important aspects like "laundry, parking, safety, storage, heating, and cooling."

You'll also want to consider the job market. Many of these low-cost, high-luxury locales are small, without the range of employment options you'll find in a bigger city like Miami, Orlando, or Jacksonville. Even if you can find a great job locally, salaries may reflect the lower cost of living.

Experts generally recommend not spending more than 30% of your income on housing. To ensure you can cover extra costs like a security deposit, moving expenses, and furniture, Hale suggests putting away a bit at a time until you reach your goal.

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If you do end up in a smaller apartment than you'd hoped, there are clever ways to make it feel bigger and more luxurious, Hale says.

"Look up," she says. "While you can't create more floor space, [you can] think vertically. Mounting wall lamps instead of floor lamps, putting bookshelves high up near the ceiling — anything you can do to bring the eyes up makes the space feel more open."

A big, luxurious apartment is nice, Hale says, but don't feel bad if you're saving money in a smaller place for now: "You always want to give yourself room to grow."

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