Most Denver Renters Want to Move to Another City: Here's Why

Most Denver Renters Want to Move to Another City: Here's Why
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A new study maintains that two-thirds of Denver renters plan to move to another city, a figure higher than the national average, with most listing high rent costs in the Mile High City as the main reason. At the same time, however, so many people from other places want to move here that the actual number of renters in Denver is likely to remain steady in the near future and could actually rise.

These are among the findings in a provocative report from Apartment List. As laid out in the following Q&A with analyst Sydney Bennet, who was heavily involved in the project, renting Denverites have a variety of reasons for wanting to relocate. But the number of those who are considering such a move because of long commute times or concerns about safety, for instance, pale in comparison to folks who simply are having a hard time stretching their dollars far enough to keep a decent roof over their head.

As the study notes, the 67 percent of Denver renters who are looking at other landing spots don't represent a figure wildly beyond the norm. Renters are traditionally more mobile than those who have purchased a home, and nationwide, 64 percent of respondents admitted that they don't expect to settle permanently in their present community. Additionally, residents of several other cities are much more eager to decamp. Data shows that a stunning 83 percent of renters in New York City, San Francisco and Cleveland, among other places, are eager to put down roots somewhere else.

And then there are the folks from other cities who see Denver as representing a greener pasture no matter how pricey the rent seems to longtimers. Denver tops the relocation wish list for renters in several cities in Texas and is in the top three for those living in a handful of other states whose license plates you've probably noticed in abundance on local streets.

Get more info in our interview with Bennet, followed by data from cities whose renters want to move here, as well as details about where restless Denver rent-payers would prefer to be.

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Westword: What are the main reasons renters are leaving Denver?

Sydney Bennet: In Denver, affordability is the primary reason renters want to relocate, with 48 percent of renters citing it as their primary reason for moving. With rapidly rising rents, it’s not surprising Denver renters would look for a more affordable place to settle down. Denver rents increased 2.7 percent over the past year, and 52 percent from 2005 to 2015. The second-most-common reason renters move out of the Denver metro is for better job opportunities — the primary reason for relocating for 22 percent of renters. Renters also relocate due to commute time and concerns about safety, with 6 percent of Denver renters moving for each of these reasons.

Do you have demographic information about renters who are leaving Denver in regard to income levels or other specifics?

We did not break down the survey data by income level. The prominence of affordability concerns may indicate that it's middle- and working-class Denverites who are hoping to relocate.

Can you extrapolate from your data to estimate about how many renters are leaving Denver?

We cannot extrapolate the number of renters leaving Denver from our data. In our renter survey, we ask renters if they plan on settling down in a different city. 67 percent of Denver renters plan on settling down in a different city, compared to 64 percent nationwide. This doesn't mean renters are leaving Denver immediately; renters may be planning to move this year or in ten years, when they want to purchase a home or start a family.

Are these renters choosing to leave Denver rather than move into home ownership in the area because purchasing property is even more financially out of reach for them right now?

In our previous analysis of millennials and home ownership, we found that Denver renters would need sixteen years to save up for a down payment on a condo given their current rate of savings. For many Denver renters, moving to a city with lower home prices is an attractive option.

At the same time that renters are leaving Denver, plenty of renters from other locations are moving in. Are there as many, or perhaps even more, new renters as there are departing renters?

Although many Denver renters are planning to settle down in a different city, renters from other metros are looking to move to Denver. The Denver renter population isn’t shrinking, but rather some renters are leaving while others are moving to Denver. The Denver renter population currently has as many, or potentially even more, renters moving to the metro as leaving. Despite affordability concerns, the strong job market will continue to attract renters from other metros, and Denver remains more affordable than some of the priciest coastal cities.

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Your data shows that Denver is the top destination for renters leaving several major cities in Texas. What is the main appeal of Denver for these renters?

Denver is the top destination for renters in Austin, Dallas and Houston, and the third-choice destination for renters in San Antonio. The job opportunities in Denver are likely a driver for many of these moves. Additionally, Denver offers more affordable rents than other jobs hubs such as Seattle and San Francisco.

Why does Denver remain an attractive destination for many renters from other cities at the same time that some renters already living here are leaving?

Denver remains an attractive destination for many renters due to a strong job market and plentiful entertainment options — from enjoying concerts at Red Rock to winter skiing to enjoying the culinary and beer scene. For long-term Denver renters, rapidly rising rents and home prices may push renters out of Denver even if they love living in the area.

Does the phenomenon of renters coming to Denver and also leaving it in significant numbers seem contradictory — or is it a sign of volatility in the rental marketplace?

This is a sign of volatility in the rental marketplace. With a strong job market and social scene, younger renters may be drawn to Denver without plans to stay in the city. Other cities that attract workers for short periods of time — for example New York, Boston and San Francisco — also see a large share of renters plan on settling down in a different city. The renter population in these cities, as well as Denver, is not shrinking, rather new renters continue to move to these cities.

What other areas are renters moving from in order to relocate to Denver?

In addition to Texas metros, Denver is popular with renters in Seattle, St. Louis and Orlando. Seattle renters may view Denver as a more affordable option than Seattle, while renters in St. Louis and Orlando are looking for better job opportunities.

What areas are most popular for renters leaving Denver?

Within Colorado, Fort Collins is the most popular destination for Denver renters, most likely because of its lower home prices and rents. For Denver renters looking to move out of state, Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX and Phoenix, AZ are the most popular destinations.

There's an apartment building boom in Denver, and it appears to be addressing an inventory shortage that's driven up prices. Do you see rent prices moderating in Denver over the coming months, and if so, how do you expect that will affect renter comings and goings?

If Denver rent prices stabilize and the job market remains strong, Denver will remain an attractive destination for out-of-state renters and more current renters may stay in the city. In addition to building more apartment inventory, the Denver area needs more affordable starter home options for Denver renters hoping to settle down more permanently in the area.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts