South Carolina’s Charleston tops rental report for cost of living and housing

Cost of living, housing options and space, local economy, quality of life – can these key metrics reveal the best cities for renters in the US?

By Alex Summers

As cost of living and housing continue to be major concerns for renters across the US, a recent report from RentCafe has identified the best cities in terms of cost of living and housing.

An extensive analysis of nearly 140 cities was conducted, examining 20 key metrics related to cost of living and housing, plus the local economy and quality of life. The results unveiled the best city for renters in 2023 as Charleston, South Carolina taking the coveted first place, closely followed by Plano, Texas, and Scottsdale, Arizona.

Charleston - best city for renters
Historic Charleston housing: the city ranks highly for cost of living and housing options. (Photo by ChristopherPillitz/In Pictures via Getty Images Images)

The best city for renters

Charleston, South Carolina, emerged as the leading city for renters, the report states, thanks to its combination of apartment quality, cost of living and a thriving local economy.

As the largest and oldest city in South Carolina, Charleston recorded the third-best cost of living in the country, offering renters a blend of affordability and high-quality living. Notably, the city has recently gained recognition as an emerging tech hub, with more than 250 tech companies establishing a presence there, resulting in a strong local economy.

Additionally, the report claims, Charleston stands out for its suburban feel, providing the advantages of a big city while maintaining excellent air quality and abundant natural amenities. With nearly half of the households being renters and apartments averaging a spacious 967 square feet, the city’s popularity among renters is evident. Furthermore, Charleston’s impressive job growth rate of 5.9% solidifies its position as the best city for renters in 2023.

Further cities of note

Plano, Texas, secured the second spot on the list, earning its reputation as the ‘City of Excellence’. Plano excelled in the categories of local economy, ranking second, and quality of life, ranking sixth for the best city for renters.

Renowned for its exceptional public schools and high air quality, Plano attracts families seeking top-notch educational opportunities and a healthy living environment. The city also boasts a significant share of high-end apartments, with 78.2% of the rental market catering to upscale housing. Plano’s impressive roster of headquarters for major corporations, including Bank of America, Hewlett Packard, FedEX, JCPenney and Pepsi, contributes to its robust job growth rate.

These factors combined make Plano an ideal city for families and professionals looking for a high standard of living.

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Scottsdale, Arizona, secured the third position, recognised as a luxury destination renowned for its upscale accommodations and resorts. Dubbed the ‘World’s Finest Golf Destination’, Scottsdale ranked third for quality of life.

The city's public schools received the highest rating among the top cities, making it an appealing choice for families. Scottsdale's natural amenities and larger-than-average apartments, with an average size of 942 square feet, make it an attractive option for both families with young children and young professionals. Additionally, the city boasts a high share of high-end apartments, with 81.3% of the rental market catering to luxury housing, surpassing other cities in the top ten.

With over 80% of apartments situated in prime locations, the report claims Scottsdale offers renters an exceptional living experience.

In the fourth position, Atlanta, Georgia, stands out for its cost of living and housing, placing it among the best cities for renters. Known as the 'City in a Forest', Atlanta offers a variety of features, including high-end boutiques and numerous parks, earning it a spot on National Geographic's 'Best of the World 2022' list.

The city's job growth rate of 4.3% is attributed to prominent companies such as Coca-Cola, Delta, UPS, Equifax and The Home Depot. Atlanta's thriving tech scene has also earned it the nickname 'Silicon Peach', and it ranks eighth in finding tech talent according to the CBRE.

Raleigh, North Carolina, rounds out the top five cities for renters in 2023. While dropping from its second-place ranking in the previous year, Raleigh remains a highly desirable location for renters.

With an impressive eighth rank in cost of living and housing, the city offers affordable living and a significant number of high-end apartments. As the second-most-educated city in the US, Raleigh thrives in research and development, boasting the Research Triangle Park. Its job market, particularly in the tech industry, positions it as a hotspot for young professionals.

Regional dominance

The report highlights the dominance of Southern cities in the ranking, with 36 of the top 50 spots belonging to the region. Southern cities, both large and small, offer renters a choice between a big-city atmosphere and the charm of smaller markets. The South's allure stems from its high potential for job growth and lower cost of living compared with other parts of the country. Cities such as Miami, Orlando, Asheville and Birmingham exemplify the diverse options available to renters in the region.

While the South takes the lead, other notable cities across the US also earned a place in the top 50 best cities for renters. Cities like Seattle, Dallas and San Francisco stood out for their strong local economies, providing renters with a range of opportunities.

[Read more: Lack of home living space sees the continued rise of self-storage]

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