Renters Struggle to Find Shelter During Hot Housing Market

May 31, 2021 Updated: May 31, 2021

California’s housing and rental markets have been soaring throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, creating competition for renters trying to secure an affordable home.

The struggle to find shelter continues for some Orange County residents, who say tough competition and economic hardships are making it nearly impossible to nab a rental.

“We’re going to be homeless,” Orange County resident Suzanne Miller told The Epoch Times. “I’m not able to secure any place. We’ve been looking and looking.”

Prior to the pandemic, Miller and her partner were living in a Tustin apartment and were successfully able to make every payment.

When the state shut down last March, Miller’s partner was laid off from his job, leaving it impossible for the couple to survive off state unemployment funds, she said.

Due to financial hardships, the couple gave up their apartment and began renting rooms around the county.

“I’ve always been very secure. I’ve always had either a condo or, a home that I owned, or an apartment that I could pay for,” Miller said. “We’re so poor right now and also trying to find a place to live, to have a room at least until we can regain our financial independence.”

The couple has been searching for a room to rent by posting online ads and submitting rental applications without success, Miller said.

“I’ve gone from very sustainable housing, never worried, to constant worry and hoping somebody, anybody, would rent a room,” she said.

Supply and Demand

Millers’ struggle to find a rental comes at a time when the rental market is high in demand.

The rental market is generally active between March and October, but with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, the demand for rentals lessened between March and May 2020.

When the first wave of state lockdowns were lifted in May, realtor Fred Sed said he began to see an influx of tenants searching for rentals. Last year’s rental market was the most heated he has seen in 15 years, he said.

“Mid-May when it opened back up … a flood wave of tenants wanted to get condos and single-family homes,” Sed told The Epoch Times.

But as a result of people not moving during the pandemic, there was limited inventory.

Orange County realtor Louis DiGonzini said this resulted in multiple applicants competing for a small pool of rentals.

“We’re noticing that clients looking for rentals are having a hard time finding properties,” DiGonzini told The Epoch Times. “We’re averaging 30 to 50 applications per property, so it has been a struggle here in OC.”

A Rise in Demand

The housing market has also picked up during the pandemic.

According to the recently published Orange County Housing Report, 58 percent of Orange County home sellers are offering homes at $1.25 million or less. Demand is so high—and supply so low—in that segment that the publisher of the report, Steven Thomas, called that sector a “hot seller’s market.”

Homeowners listing properties for $1.25 million or less can expect to find a buyer in just 15 to 16 days on average, according to the report.

Those selling homes in the $1.25 million to $2 million range can expect a sale in about 24 days, according to the report. The quick list-to-sell period again indicates a strong seller’s market.

With the current hike in home prices, some prospective home buyers are deciding to rent until the market begins to wane.

“What we’re seeing is low inventory,” Sed said. “There’s a lot of buyers out there that aren’t qualifying or are not wanting to pay the prices that the sales market requires because the prices are increasing so rapidly that they’re considering renting for the time being until the market cools off.”

As a result, the demand for rentals is higher than ever, especially with existing tenants extending their leases until the housing market goes down.

On a regular basis, Sed said he receives an average of seven to nine applications per condo or townhome listing.

“There are so many tenants out there that [are] trying to find a property as soon as possible,” he said. “A lot of these tenants are great, they’re qualified, and [their] financials look great. There are just so many of them.”

Hot Competition

Within a day of Brian Hale putting up his Tustin property for rent, he said he received 23 applications from interested families, with some being from Northern California. Some of the applicants hadn’t even seen the property.

Hale said his applicants are searching for places to rent as soaring housing prices make it difficult to purchase homes.

Realtor Sed said that as a result of the trend, Californians have been moving to Texas, Arizona, and Tennessee. With the competitive playing field of single-family home and condo rentals, Sed sees this trend staying for the foreseeable future.