Making Sense of Median Rent Statistics
The urgency of housing costs in the United States prompts the need for facts and figures, and the abundance of online real-estate listings would seem to provide. But as the statistics pile up, it's worth remembering that more numbers doesn't mean good numbers.
Daniel Hertz at City Observatory wrote about the need for journalists and would-be-informed citizens to judge the viability of median rental statistics, and followed up with a guide for assessing the reliability of data and its sources.
The guide compares the practices a few mainstay sources of rental data, like HUD and Zillow, and offers general advice for assessing the myriad other sources a reader could encounter.
One takeaway: A simple average of all available listings may be less straightforward than you think.
According to Hertz, averages may be skewed toward the high end of the rental market for a number of reasons: for instance, low-rent apartments or even whole neighborhoods may be underrepresented on many sites, while high-rent units tend to stay listed, and thus present in the data set, for longer.
Another solid tip: Read the fine print. You may not be able to grade the math in every study, but a serious source should certainly be able to offer an explanation as to how it accounts for the kinds of factors Hertz brings up.