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Top 5 U.S. cities where new apartments are getting bigger

"If you have breathing room, you function better and your mental health is better."

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Twenty/20

Americans have been moving a lot since the pandemic began. The rise of remote work has made it possible to live closer to family or nature — or even move to a city that's paying remote workers to relocate there. With more homes set to double as full- or part-time offices, some cities are constructing apartment buildings accordingly.

In a new analysis, RentCafé looked at apartment buildings with 50 or more units in 92 U.S. cities, comparing the square footage of apartments currently under construction (as of May 2021) to the square footage of projects completed between 2010 and 2020. The data was collected from Yardi Matrix, a commercial real estate data firm.

The post-pandemic shift in apartment size is notable: More than one-third, 36%, of cities studied are building larger properties now than they were over the past five years, with the size of individual units increasing by an average of 48 square feet. And it's not just big apartments that are getting bigger: The square footage of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments expanded in almost half of the surveyed cities, by averages of 28 square feet, 39 square feet, and 105 square feet, respectively.  

If you're looking to move to a new space with extra room, here are the top five cities where apartments are getting bigger, along with figures from Zumper on the typical rent for a one-bedroom apartment in each area.

1. Everett, Washington

Apartment size by sq. ft. (2016-2020): 928
Net change in sq. ft.: 267
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,275

2. Kirkland, Washington

Apartment size by sq. ft. (2016-2020): 610
Net change in sq. ft.: 211
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,853

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3. Scottsdale, Arizona

Apartment size by sq. ft. (2016-2020): 931
Net change in sq. ft.: 208
Average one-bedroom rent: $1,599

4. Midland, Texas

Apartment size by sq. ft. (2016-2020): 912
Net change in sq. ft.: 182
Average one-bedroom rent: $985

5. Fremont, California

Apartment size by sq. ft.: (2016-2020): 845
Net change in sq. ft.: 151
Average one-bedroom rent: $2,000

Suburbs lead the way but cities are increasing space too

While each of the above cities are medium-size, with populations of less than 600,000 residents, apartment sizes are inflating in bigger cities, too. According to RentCafé, 27 of the 33 locations with the most significant apartment-size growth were in urban areas, indicating "a sudden demand for larger city apartments to address the new reality we live in." Larger cities like Albuquerque, Chicago, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City all made the list.

On the other hand, very expensive urban areas like New York City and Washington, D.C., did not. That makes sense, says Ellen Sykes, a broker at Warburg Realty: "For many cities in the Northeast, particularly [in] states like Connecticut and New York, construction costs are higher, and the cost of living is as well."

Housing money "doesn't go as far in the North as it does farther South," she says.

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Having a dedicated home office space is ideal

In its analysis, RentCafé notes that the average apartment size increase it found, 48 square feet, should be just enough for a small home office. That's welcome news to anyone in a tight living space who may be putting in long hours over a kitchen counter or coffee table.

"Even without a pandemic, if you have breathing room you function better and your mental health is better," says Sykes. "Restricted space can restrict your mind and your outlook."

Christopher Totaro, a real estate agent at Warburg Realty, agrees. "Constantly looking at your home workspace creates stress," he says. "You are constantly thinking, 'Should I be doing more?' ... [It's] critical to create a separation ritual so you don't feel like you are sleeping in your office."

Want more space? First make room in your budget

More space often comes at a cost. Three of the five cities listed above have rents close to or above the current national one-bedroom average of $1,663. And the larger units being constructed now are in brand-new apartment buildings, which tend to be more expensive than older ones.

"Understand your finances [and] understand your local real estate market," says John Walkup, the co-founder of real estate data and insights company UrbanDigs. "Then set your budget accordingly based on your needs."

If you're hoping to change cities or apartments, get your money situation in order first. Stash away a bit at a time to ensure you can cover costs like the security deposit, moving expenses, and furniture. Be aware of your budget for rent: Experts suggest spending no more than 30% of your income on housing.

Check out the job market, too. Local salaries for a new role may reflect lower living costs, which could be especially significant if you lose a remote job based in a higher-paying area.

When hunting for a new apartment, "seek out value where urgency is lacking," Walkup says. "By taking this approach, you might be able to find a gem for a notably lower price."

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