US Apartment Sizes Shrinking: The Smallest Apartments Aren’t in NYC, but Tucson, AZ

The housing trend that made Manhattan and San Francisco known as hotbeds of tiny living has picked up steam all across the country in recent years. According to a recent study by RENTCafé*, an apartment search website and our sister company, the average size of a new apartment has fallen to 934 square feet in 2016, down 8% from 2006. Studios saw the steepest decline in living space over the past decade, with an 18% shrinkage in square footage.

Apartment size trends 2006 - 2016

Overall, the average size of a U.S. apartment is 889 square feet, regardless of when a property was built.

The biggest apartments are in Atlanta, GA and the smallest are in … that’s right, not Manhattan, but Tucson, AZ. Manhattan didn’t even make the top cites with the smallest apartments list, with sizes on par with the national average. Studios in Manhattan average 475 sq. ft., 1-bedrooms come in at 694 sq. ft., and two-bedrooms span a reasonable 1,015 sq. ft. But if you factor in rent prices, NYC’s most hyped borough would definitely pop up as the nation’s tightest market. Manhattan’s average rent – sitting somewhere around $4,400 – is well above any other major city in the country, including San Francisco’s ever-growing rental prices, which are now pegged at an average of $3,500.

In fact, in the current economy, less space doesn’t always mean less expensive rents. National rents are at an all-time high right now – in June, the average rent topped the 1,200 mark, according to Yardi Matrix, an apartment market intelligence source which researches and reports on all multifamily properties of 50+ units across 121 markets in the U.S.

US Cities with the smallest and largest apartments

Despite high demand, Atlanta apartments emerge as the option that offers the most bang for the buck with spacious floorplans – the biggest in the US, overall – and rents that would make any budget-conscious, lover of big city life jealous: $1,297. Rents get even smaller in Charlotte – approx. $1,094 per month – while apartments are still on the large side. The city of Los Angeles can brag rather large apartments, yet California’s average size is dragged down by smaller housing pockets such as Bakersfield, Stockton, Fresno, and Chula Vista which hold some of the tiniest apartments in the nation. In fact, when breaking down sizes by region, California sits at the bottom of the list, posting the smallest unit sizes.

Apartment size by region

There are many factors that contribute to this general shrinkage trend. Among other things, it can be correlated with the growing demand for urban living and the fact that developers are trying to accommodate an influx of new residents moving back to the cities’ urban cores.

In the past few years, we’ve actually been witnessing a reversal of the flight to the suburbs with a growing number of people attempting to reduce dependence on cars and cut commute times. Renters want to come back to live in the cities where there’s more activity, whether that means jobs, shops, or entertainment.

Moreover, the green living trend is growing in popularity, with most people recognizing the benefits of downsizing and having a lower carbon footprint. From a sustainability standpoint, smaller units are a smarter housing alternative as they come with lower heating and cooling bills, reduced energy use, and furnishings and personal possessions have to be kept to a minimum.

Many of these new apartment communities make up in amenities what they lack in living space. Avalon West Chelsea in New York City, for example, an eco-friendly, smoke-free community built in 2015, comes with all the bells and whistles, from an 8th floor terrace with spectacular Hudson River and skyline views and a state-of-the-art fitness center to WiFi access in common areas and 24-hour concierge service. Rent for a 453-square-foot studio starts at $3,070.

Avalon West Chelsea Apartments in Manhattan

Check out RENTCafé’s post for the full research.

Update: As rental properties across the nation saw losses in size in the last decade, the newly-built home market reported an opposite trend overall. Historically, homes in almost all major cities in America got bigger every decade since WWII, and the 2010-2016 time frame was no exception. See our study on the evolution of the average home size in the US for more details.

*The report is exclusively based on apartment data related to buildings containing 50 or more units.

Amalia Otet

Amalia Otet

Amalia Otet is an online content developer and creative writer for RENTCafé. She loves all things real estate and strives to live beautifully, one green step at a time.

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