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How many hours do you need to work to sign a rental agreement?
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How many hours do you need to work to sign a rental agreement?

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The COVID-19 outbreak is poised to cause major migration shifts across the U.S. According to a recent report by Pew Research Center, 22% of U.S. adults changed their residence or knew someone who did because of the pandemic. This represents a stark reversal from the longstanding trend of Americans staying put and could have far-reaching effects on local populations and economies.


Prior to COVID-19, geographic mobility in the U.S. reached historic lows. Data from the Census Bureau shows that between 2018 and 2019, only 9% of Americans changed their address. By contrast, the geographic mobility rate hovered around 20% throughout the 1950s and 1960s before beginning its decline. Among those who did move in 2019, roughly six in 10 people moved within the same county, with far fewer moving across county or state lines.


Despite the overall drop in mobility, people who moved in 2019 were more likely to do so for work-related reasons than in years past. For example, between 2018 and 2019, 12.1% of movers indicated that a new job or job transfer was their primary reason for moving, compared to 9.5% in 1999. Similarly, the percentage of people who moved in 2019 to reduce their commute was 6.2%, a rate two times higher than that reported 20 years ago.


These mobility trends are likely to reverse course sharply in the wake of COVID-19, especially as more companies allow for remote work. The new Pew Research data suggests that people have moved as much in 2020 already as all of 2019. Among those who moved, some of the main reasons were to reduce their risk of infection, to return home after college campuses closed, to be with family, and to cope with job loss and other financial problems.


A recent Harris poll found that because of the outbreak, 39% of urban dwellers are considering a permanent move to less crowded places, such as the suburbs or rural areas. The combination of lower population densities, lower living costs, and the shift to remote work is making less urbanized areas an increasingly attractive option.

As the need to live in close proximity to work has shifted for many Americans, more affordable housing is a particularly strong draw for residents looking to move. To find the most and least expensive locations to sign a new rental agreement, researchers at HireAHelper analyzed median rental prices and wage statistics across the United States. Using this data, HireAHelper calculated how many hours the typical renter would need to work to sign a new rental agreement. For this calculation, the researchers assumed that a renter would need to pay three months of rent up front (i.e., first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit).


For example, the national median cost of a two-bedroom rental is $1,293 and the median wage is $19.14 per hour. This means that a typical renter would need to have $3,879 saved to sign the rental agreement, which would require 203 hours of work.

States in the Northeast and West Coast tend to require the greatest number of hours to sign a rental agreement, especially California (284 hours), Massachusetts (239 hours), and New York (236 hours). By contrast, states in the Midwest and Northwest require the fewest hours, like Wyoming (141 hours), Iowa (136 hours), and North Dakota (128 hours).


As with the state-level data, more densely populated metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the West Coast, and Florida tend to be the most expensive, while less densely populated areas in the Midwest tend to offer new residents more affordable housing options. Of the 15 most affordable metro areas for new renters, six were located in Ohio. Conversely, of the 15 most expensive locations, six were located in California and four in Florida. Notably, the average number of hours needed to sign a new rental agreement across the 15 most expensive metropolitan areas (284 hours) was approximately two times higher than the average among the 15 least expensive metros (143 hours).

Here are the 15 most and least expensive metros to sign a new rental agreement.


The most expensive metros for new renters

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1. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 380
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $10,431
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $3,477
  • Median hourly wage: $27.42

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 324
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $6,321
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,107
  • Median hourly wage: $19.49

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 316
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $9,411
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $3,137
  • Median hourly wage: $29.80

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Urban Honolulu, HI

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 315
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $6,945
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,315
  • Median hourly wage: $22.07

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 309
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $6,339
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,113
  • Median hourly wage: $20.52

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. San Diego-Carlsbad, CA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 299
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $6,483
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,161
  • Median hourly wage: $21.66

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 295
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $5,241
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $1,747
  • Median hourly wage: $17.76

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 286
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $7,329
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,443
  • Median hourly wage: $25.62

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 273
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $6,402
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,134
  • Median hourly wage: $23.48

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 266
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $6,795
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,265
  • Median hourly wage: $25.50

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 262
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $6,729
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $2,243
  • Median hourly wage: $25.65

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 244
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $4,023
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $1,341
  • Median hourly wage: $16.50

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 234
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $3,531
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $1,177
  • Median hourly wage: $15.11

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 233
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $3,960
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $1,320
  • Median hourly wage: $17.00

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 230
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $4,182
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $1,394
  • Median hourly wage: $18.17

The least expensive metros for new renters

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1. Dayton, OH

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 131
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,484
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $828
  • Median hourly wage: $19.01

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Toledo, OH

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 136
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,448
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $816
  • Median hourly wage: $17.95

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 138
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,232
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $744
  • Median hourly wage: $16.18

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Winston-Salem, NC

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 140
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,439
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $813
  • Median hourly wage: $17.38

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Cleveland-Elyria, OH

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 140
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,730
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $910
  • Median hourly wage: $19.44

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 141
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,673
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $891
  • Median hourly wage: $18.98

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 141
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,874
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $958
  • Median hourly wage: $20.37

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Wichita, KS

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 147
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,613
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $871
  • Median hourly wage: $17.78

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Akron, OH

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 147
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,736
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $912
  • Median hourly wage: $18.57

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 147
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,793
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $931
  • Median hourly wage: $19.05

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Syracuse, NY

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 147
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,856
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $952
  • Median hourly wage: $19.48

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Pittsburgh, PA

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 148
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,892
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $964
  • Median hourly wage: $19.50

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 149
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,556
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $852
  • Median hourly wage: $17.13

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 149
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,565
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $855
  • Median hourly wage: $17.27

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI

  • Hours of work needed to sign a rental agreement: 149
  • First month’s rent + last month’s rent + security deposit: $2,925
  • Median 2-bedroom monthly rent: $975
  • Median hourly wage: $19.58

Methodology & detailed findings

The rental price data used in this report is from HUD’s 50th Percentile Rent Estimates. State and national-level estimates were aggregated from county-level data. Median wage statistics are from BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics.

To find the number of work hours needed to sign a two-bedroom rental agreement in each location, researchers assumed that a renter would need to pay three months of rent upfront (i.e., first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit). This total amount was then divided by the location’s median hourly wage. Locations were ordered by the resulting statistic. In the event of a tie, median monthly rent was used. Only metropolitan areas with at least 500,000 residents were included in the analysis.

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