Not to sound discouraging but good luck finding an apartment in Bakersfield these days.
A new survey of local rental units found the city's vacancy rate dipped this spring to below 1.5 percent, a level not seen in decades if ever.
It's so bad one guy looking for an apartment in town for his family recently offered Realtor and manager Scott Knoeb a $1,000 finders fee.
"I could not do it," Knoeb said: Nothing was available.
There had been concern that the moratorium in place during the pandemic would skew the market as people who can't pay rent stay put. But Knoeb said that hasn't been his experience.
Normally 10 percent to 12 percent of tenants don't pay rent on time. He said it's still in that range: "It's just not a big percentage."
One reason for the tight conditions, people in the business say, is that renters priced out of other markets find Bakersfield more affordable, especially if they can work remotely.
Lack of new construction contributes, too, as apartment developers find it hard to make money navigating what they see as onerous regulatory requirements.
A leading observer of the local market who shared the rental survey results, multifamily residential broker Marc Thurston at ASU Commercial, said the situation may be unprecedented. Never in 30 years has he seen citywide vacancies so low.
His data shows that as recently as the fourth quarter of last year the city's vacancy rate was 3.28 percent. It dropped in the first quarter to 2.65 percent, Thurston reported. Then in the second quarter it fell to 1.56 percent: Good for landlords, not for renters.
In the eastern part of town there were effectively no vacancies in apartments of any size, ASU reported.
The only units that saw any kind of increase to more than 2 percent — and there were no market segments where vacancies rose to even 5 percent — were one-bedroom apartments in south Bakersfield and one bedrooms in central Bakersfield.
Another sign of strong rental demand ASU reported is a gradual decrease in landlords offering concessions to renters. The number of apartments offering things like discounted rent or reduced fees dropped two-thirds, to six properties, between last year's fourth quarter and this year's second.
At the same time there was an 83 percent increase, to 22, in landlords charging for utilities, ASU reported.
It's becoming increasingly clear people from the Los Angeles basin outnumber others moving to the southern Central Valley. Knoeb said he's seeing a lot of 213 area codes coming up on his phone, along with other Southern California codes he's learned.
He used to get two to three applications for each available apartment. That changed about a month into California's March 19 stay-at-home order. He said now it's more like nine to 10 for everything priced between $775 and $2,500 per month and that his new line is, "Sorry, it's already been rented."
Ian Sharples, director of public affairs for the Income Property Association of Kern trade group, said the crunch isn't caused only by people fleeing more expensive markets or even natural population growth, though both are significant factors.
"There's also a lot more people finding economic opportunity in the valley," he said. "I've noticed people coming here to start businesses as well."