Four Square Footage Facts You Need To Know Before You Rent

If you’ve used an internet search engine to find a new apartment, you’ve certainly seen no shortage of the abbreviation “sq ft,” short for “square feet.” This measurement is intended to help prospective renters understand how much space their new apartment will have, but the number may be an abstract one for many renters. It’s one thing to know ahead of seeing your new apartment that you’ll have 500 square feet to work with. Envisioning this amount of space is an entirely different challenge. 

Does square footage actually indicate how much space you’ll have? What’s considered “average” square footage? What should you expect as you begin to read real estate listings? Below, we’ll detail what you need to know about square footage before you begin viewing apartments.

1. Square footage varies by region

A small apartment in one region may be huge in another. For example, in El Paso, Texas, the average size of all apartments of all bedroom sizes is 812 square feet, but in Seattle, the average apartment size is 711 square feet. This difference, 99 square feet, is bigger than some bedrooms in two- or three-bedroom New York apartments (and, as you’ll soon learn, not much smaller than some of the tiniest studio apartments). Thus, what someone thinks is a small apartment in Seattle may be entirely untenable in El Paso.

In general, the Southeast has the largest apartments, with an average of 975 square feet. Conversely, California (which is considered its own region for these purposes) has the smallest apartments, with an average of 837 square feet. Across the U.S., the national apartment size average is 882 square feet. As individual states go, Georgia has the largest average square footage of any state at 1,019 square feet, and Kansas has the smallest at 791 square feet, much less than the Midwest’s average of 882 square feet. 

2. Not all spaces are created equal

As square footage goes, not every apartment labeled as a studio is exactly the same. In states such as California, New York, and Pennsylvania, overcrowding in large cities can lead to “efficiency” studio apartments as tiny as 150 square feet. These studios tend to include especially small appliances and, often, no space for a living or dining room setup, let alone a kitchen table. 

Another space-saving studio apartment arrangement comes in the form of lofts. A lofted studio elevates one section of the apartment above the rest, adding to the surface area available for renter use without expanding the volume the unit occupies. In theory, a lofted studio may have as much surface area as a “traditional” studio, but since it likely occupies less volume, it may feel smaller. 

When you’re searching for studio apartments, you should be certain that the spaces you’re seeing aren’t so small that they’re illegal. Find out how to distinguish between a tiny, legal apartment and an illegally, dangerously subdivided unit here.

3. Nationally, overall square footage has decreased 

If you’re prioritizing apartments with lots of room, you may find your search challenging. Over the past decade, the size of newly built apartments has decreased. In some cases, these changes are drastic – studio apartments, for example, have experienced a 10.3 percent decrease in square footage this decade. Across all apartment styles, the average square footage has decreased 5.2 percent, though for two-bedroom apartments, the average square footage has actually increased by 0.5 percent.

These changes also differ by region. In California, the region with the smallest average apartment size, the average square footage has decreased 12 percent. In the Southeast, the region with the largest size, the decrease is only four percent. The Midwest is the only region that has seen an increase in apartment size, though only by one percent.

4. As square footage has decreased, prices have increased

Don’t take the national decrease in square footage to mean that apartments have gotten cheaper. The average national rent has increased 28 percent over the past decade, a far larger change than the national decrease in square footage. In 2008, the national average apartment size was 993 square feet, and the average rent was just below $1,600. In 2018, the national average apartment size was 941 square feet, and the average rent was $1,944. 

In certain cities, this effect is especially strong, such as in Tampa, Florida, where the average square footage has decreased 16 percent since 2008 and average rent has increased 51 percent. Denver has the largest gap, with an 11 percent average square footage decrease corresponding with an 84 percent average rent increase.

No matter the square footage you want, hunt wisely

Whether you’re looking for a huge apartment or can be happy in a smaller one, remain vigilant during your hunt. My First Apartment’s guides to apartment search length, best times of year for renting, and key questions to ask agents and landlords can help you have the easiest, safest hunt possible.

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