America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Philadelphia

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America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Philadelphia

Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

Rent in Philadelphia is cheap — compared to other major East Coast metros like New York City, that is. The lower cost of living makes the city attractive to many millennials and empty-nest baby boomers relocating in search of an urban, walkable lifestyle. But relative affordability creates a vicious cycle.

Thanks to the city’s decade-long population boom, there’s intense demand for housing and rental markets are heating up. While developers have rushed to meet demand with a wave of condominium and apartment construction, much of the new housing supply is aimed at the luxury market.

How much does it cost to rent in Philadelphia?

Median rent in Philadelphia climbed 8% in the past year. The increase is especially notable considering rents in Boston, New York City and Washington D.C. were flat or down during that period, according to apartment listing site Zumper.

Among the ten largest metropolitan areas, Philadelphia is now the seventh-most expensive market for renters, with the average one-bedroom apartment going for $1,120, according to Apartments.com. That’s fairly high, but a steal relative to the average rent of $3,477 in New York City or $1,971 in Washington D.C. Renters insurance in Philadelphia costs between $11 and 25 a month.

Check out Policygenius' Renters Index if you're curious which cities have the savviest tenants.

In ritzy Rittenhouse Square, a popular neighborhood in Philadelphia for newcomers with high-paying jobs, one bedrooms average $1,800 a month, says Adrian Ponsen, market economist at CoStar Group, the parent company of Apartments.com. In Old City, on the Market Frankford line, renters can expect to pay an average of $1,650.

How to find affordable rent in Philadelphia

Fortunately for the budget-minded, pockets of affordability remain, even within some of Philadelphia’s most vibrant emerging neighborhoods. Here are some expert-recommended areas where you stand a good chance of finding above-average apartments at below-average prices.

1. Fishtown

Fishtown is a buzzing neighborhood with a mix of low- and high-priced apartments. One bedrooms average about $1,400, but there are many offerings at a range of price points. With its industrial heritage and burgeoning restaurant and bar scene, Fishtown was recently named “America’s hottest new neighborhood” by Forbes.

With easy access to downtown Philadelphia on the El, the neighborhood has developed quickly in recent years. The housing stock consists of a mix of historic row houses and industrial properties rehabilitated into high-end apartments and condos.

“The neighborhood is home to some of the most lively and popular bars in all of Philadelphia, including Johnny Brenda’s and Frankford Hall, and is within a 15-minute direct subway ride to the heart of Center City,” says Ponsen. A centrally-located studio apartment in Fishtown, with a separate kitchen and backyard access, was advertised for just $800 a month.

2. Bella Vista

Bella Vista in South Philadelphia is about a 25-minute bus ride to Philadelphia’s central business district. Renters can expect to pay about $1,100 for a one bedroom.

“Bella Vista has an exceptional selection of relatively-affordable Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants and is home to Philadelphia’s legendary Italian Market, a street produce market that has been in operation for more than 120 years,” says Ponsen. The neighborhood has good nightlife with new bars opening in recent years to cater to the younger crowd.

3. East Falls

In the northwest section of Philadelphia, East Falls is a haven for young families and nature-lovers who desire green space.

“Rents for one-bedrooms average about $1,250 but can be significantly lower among for-rent row homes that are not professionally managed,” says Ponsen. For example, an 800-square-foot apartment on the second floor of a townhouse, featuring high ceilings and seven closets, listed for $995 plus utilities.

East Falls is less than 20 minutes from Center City on the SEPTA regional rail, and its restaurant and bar scenes are expanding. The neighborhood where Princess Grace Kelly grew up boasts tree-lined streets and considerable historic charm.

“One of the neighborhood’s most unique features is that it offers direct access to expansive biking and jogging trails along Kelly Drive and West River Drive, both of which hug the scenic Schuylkill River,” says Ponsen.

4. Bonus tip: Shop around

Newcomers from more expensive cities in the Northeast are “often shocked at Philadelphia’s relative affordability,” Posen says. “This can cause new renters to jump at the first apartment they see.”

But be sure to shop around … and negotiate (we've got tips for talking down a landlord here). Even in expensive Center City, it’s possible to score a deal.

“Renters that focus their search on high-end apartment towers in and around Center City should be sure to press for one month’s free rent in exchange for signing a 13-month lease,” he says.

Many Center City landlords are now offering this discount, as the surge in luxury apartment development is pressuring landlords to compete aggressively for tenants.

We can't curb burgeoning rents in big cities, but we can help you save on coverage for your stuff. You can quickly compare renters insurance quotes here.

Image: Sean Pavone