The 10 best cities for renters that offer affordable homes, good job markets and plenty to do

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Unfortunately for big city dreamers, living in some of the most-hyped U.S. cities such as New York; Los Angeles; or Washington, D.C., will come with a hefty price tag. At times, it can feel like you have to choose between comfortably affording your rent and living somewhere with ample job opportunities and things to do.

But that’s not always the case. You might be lucky enough to score an apartment for cheap in an expensive area. Or, you can look to areas that have it all: affordable housing options, a dynamic economy with an influx of businesses and a healthy physical environment. 

Most of those areas seem to be in the South. Charleston, South Carolina, leads the rankings as the best city for renters across metrics that consider both costs and living experience, according to a new study from RentCafe. In fact, nine of the top 10 cities RentCafe ranked are located in the South, including four cities in Texas. 

Cost may be the most important factor when deciding where you want to live, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration. RentCafe scored 136 locales using 20 metrics broken down into three categories — cost of living, local economy and quality of life — to determine the best overall places for renters. 

Here’s a closer look at some of the metrics included in each category:

  • Cost of living: Includes local rent prices, grocery and utility costs, average apartment sizes and occupancy rates.
  • Local economy: Includes unemployment rate and job growth.
  • Quality of life: Includes apartment locations, school quality and average commute times.

While the cost of living metrics carried the most weight, the best places for renters perform relatively well across all categories.

If you’re looking for an affordable place to rent with robust opportunities for career growth and a high quality of life, check out RentCafe’s top 10 places.

Top 10 places in the U.S. for renters 

  1. Charleston, South Carolina
  2. Plano, Texas
  3. Scottsdale, Arizona
  4. Atlanta
  5. Raleigh, North Carolina
  6. Round Rock, Texas
  7. Austin, Texas
  8. Charlotte, North Carolina
  9. Conroe, Texas
  10. Arlington, Virginia

Charleston takes the top spot due mostly to its relatively low cost of living and high apartment quality, according to RentCafe.

Apartments in South Carolina’s largest city go for an average of $1,938 a month, a little more than the national average of about $1,700, according to RentCafe. The average Charleston apartment is larger, however, at an average of 965 square feet, compared with 897 square feet nationwide.

When it comes to its local economy, Charleston boasts a 3.4% unemployment rate, just below the national rate of 3.7%.

It could do better in terms of quality of life, with just about 16% of apartments situated in top locations, based on Yardi Matrix’s definition, which considers the local population’s education level, employment and income, as well as attributes such as proximity to commercial development and availability of public transportation.

Why renters may want to ‘mess with Texas’

Four Texas cities – Plano, Round Rock, Austin and Conroe — earned spots in the top 10 in RentCafe’s rankings, mostly due to high scores for housing costs. 

Plano, a suburb of Dallas, ranks second overall, mostly because of its local economy and quality of life scores. Its $1,813 average rent price is higher than the national average, but apartments in Plano are largely well-positioned, with nearly 70% in top locations.

Renters in Plano earn an average $73,930 annual salary, which is more than the other top-ranked Texas cities.

Round Rock, Austin and Conroe, ranked sixth, seventh and ninth, respectively, each score well in the cost of living category, with Conroe earning the best housing cost score of any place ranked. Its average rent of just $1,364 is hard to beat. 

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