All About the Roommate Market

Hey folks, Simone here! We’ve been doing a lot of market research on roommates these last few months, and wanted to share with you some of the stats we find most interesting.

In this post I will go through some of the key decisions we’ve made and the data that helped us arrive at these conclusions – namely, focusing Symbi on:

  1. 1-1 roommate matching
  2. New York City

and understanding just how big our market opportunity size is.

Shared Housing in America

We wanted to size the opportunity in shared living all-up. Let’s start with some general shared housing trends in the US.

First, let’s talk about how many homes in the US are apartment complexes in the first place. According to the US Census Bureau, 7% of all homes in the US are condominiums, and 11.8% of homes in the US have 10 units or more in the structure. In fact, 3.8% of US homes have 50 or more units in the building – this number was much higher than we expected!

What we’re really after, though, is how many homes are on the rental market. We learned that 3% of US homes – that’s 9.4M households – are for rent at any given time, on average. Of all rental homes, only 17% are currently rented out, leaving 83% – or 7.9 M homes – currently up for rental at any given time.

Next we wanted to know how many roommates we should match together at a time. Here are the homes on a rental market broken down by number of bedrooms in the unit.

Number US rentals by bedroom

This data shows that 2-bedroom rentals are the most common, comprising 3.9M households currently on the market in the US. We listened to data like this to focus our efforts on 2-person households (you + a roommate).

Okay, so those are the households, but how about from the people perspective? For instance, some roommates are also homeowners, so households don’t tell the complete story. What about the stats on the number of potential roommates?

The People

A common roommate-finding scenario is someone who has just moved to a new place. According to the Pew Research Center, a whopping 11.9% of Americans have moved to a new community in the past year (known as the “annual migration rate”). Of these, 40% of these new residences were apartments – that is, 4.3% of Americans (13.6M) move into a new apartment in a brand new community each year. That’s a lot of turnover!

Why do people move? The biggest single factor is for better job opportunities (44%). Education and current geography of the people themselves are the largest differences between who moves and who stays put. College graduates and those who dwell in cities, suburbs, and small towns are more likely to move, and move farther away. What’s more, 26% of Americans have no extended-family members living within an hour’s drive of them. This drives the importance of friends and roommates as a surrogate “family,” with true relatives far away. Finding the right roommate is a high-stakes decision!

How many people are we talking about here? According to Census data, 6.5 M Americans (2% of the US population) live with non-family platonic roommates. From a household perspective, 6.8% of all homes in the US are made of non-family roommates, and this number is growing. Below we show household breakdowns over the last two decades. As you can see (green highlighting), this percentage is up from 5.2% in 1990. (Note that this household view below groups platonic and non-platonic roommates together.)

Census nonfamily households

New York City

With all this moving around and shared living in big cities, New York City in particular is a top spot for roommates. The city crams 8.4 M people – and growing at a rate of ~1%/year! – into 305 sq miles, within the confines of 3 M households. US Census data shows that the number of households with non-family roommates in NYC increased over 40% between 2000 and 2010, compared to 30% for the US population at large (see chart above). And the population moves frequently: 11% of all NYC residents have lived in their current home for less than a year. The highest roommate rate in the City is Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where 9% of households are made up of roommate arrangements.

In addition to the huge population, roommates are a necessity for New York City due to its expense. After holding the title of “most expensive city” for many years, NYC has recently ceded the title to San Francisco for small apartments, but on average, NYC still wins for priciest bedrooms. Check out the top 5 most expensive US cities below:

Median Rent - Top 5 Cities

With such high prices and a booming (and ever-growing) population, New York City stands out as the perfect storm for needing a compatible roommate you can stick with. That’s exactly what we’re trying to build with Symbi.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the world of housing, populations, and costs, which have informed our decision-making in the early days of Symbi.

See you soon!

Keep checking back here for more updates. We have some great data to share with you on all the influences your roommate has on your life – psychological, mental, and financial. Please follow our blog to stay up to date with us.

Happy roommating!

-Simone

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