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Consumer Research | November 15, 2016

Renters Say Cost of Utilities is More Concerning Than Rent Itself

More renters are worried about rising utility bills than rising rents and nearly half of renters surveyed say they are willing to pay more for rental properties with cost-saving water and energy features. Additionally, 84 percent say green properties are generally better places to live.

Compared to earlier surveys, the latest research also shows more renters saying they are satisfied with their rental experience, but worried about their financial situations. A majority of renters also say they put more importance on saving for emergencies, children's education or retirement than on down payments for a home. There was also no change in the propensity to rent, with 55 percent saying they expect to rent their next home.

Concerns About Utility Bills

For the first time, the Freddie Mac survey included questions about renter perceptions and concerns about utility costs.

  • Seventy percent of renters say they are moderately to greatly concerned about higher utility bills. By contrast, only 63 percent shared concern about potential rent increases.
  • Seventy-four percent say higher utility bills would have some impact or a great impact on their household finances, almost as many as those who said the same (78 percent) about higher rents.
  • Eighty-eight percent agreed multifamily properties with green energy- and water-saving features would help reduce their utility bills.
  • Eighty-four percent say green properties are generally better places to live.
  • Forty-seven percent say they are willing to pay more for an environmentally-friendly rental.

Most renters say the rental experience is satisfying and affordable

There was an increase in the percentage of renters who said they are satisfied with the rental experience.

  • Forty-four percent of renters said they were very satisfied, up from 33 percent in January 2016.
  • An additional 22 percent said they were moderately satisfied with the rental experience, bringing the overall percentage of satisfied renters to 66 percent in the latest research.
  • At the same time, the number of respondents who say renting is more affordable than owning fell from 69 percent in January 2016 to 65 percent in the most recent survey.

More than half expect to rent their new home

  • Fifty-five percent expect to rent their next residence
  • Forty-five percent expect to buy
  • Of those who plan to move, Gen-Xers are the only cohort where a majority (58 percent) say they plan to buy their next home. They are also the group most likely to worry about their financial situation.

Concern about household finances is rising

Each generation showed increased stress about their financial situations over the past year. Overall, the percentage of renters who say they have enough money to go beyond each payday fell from 41 percent to 34 percent over the past year. The percentage of renters who say they either live payday to payday, or don't have enough for basics between paychecks, rose from 59 percent to 66 percent. In addition, nearly one in five renters (19 percent) worry about eviction because they can no longer afford the rent.

  • Gen-Xers: 70 percent (from 53 percent)
  • Millennials: 68 percent (from 64 percent)
  • Baby Boomers: 62 percent (from 61 percent)

Down payments are ranked below other savings goals

Renters, including Millennials and Gen-Xers, are less likely to say saving for a home down payment is absolutely essential compared to saving for emergencies or education. Asked to rank essential savings goals, each groups’ saving priorities are as follows:

MillennialsGen-XersBaby Boomers
  1. Emergency fund (61%)
  2. Children’s education (52%)
  3. Retirement (48%)
  4. Professional development (45%)
  5. Down payment (40%).
  1. Children’s education (59%)
  2. Emergency funds (54%)
  3. Down payment (53%)
  4. Retirement (52%).
  5. Professional development (29%)
  1. Emergency fund (42%)
  2. Retirement (42%)
  3. Down payment (25%)
  4. Vacation (20%)
  5. Planned major purchase (18%)

Survey Methodology

Freddie Mac commissions Harris Poll to survey U.S. adults online each quarter to get their perceptions about renting. The most recent survey was completed in online Aug.– Sept. 2016 among 4,105 adults aged 18 and over, including 1,362 renters. Age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.


Opinions, estimates, forecasts and other views contained in this document are those of Freddie Mac's Economic & Housing Research group, do not necessarily represent the views of Freddie Mac or its management, should not be construed as indicating Freddie Mac's business prospects or expected results, and are subject to change without notice. Although the Economic & Housing Research group attempts to provide reliable, useful information, it does not guarantee that the information is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. The information is therefore provided on an “as is” basis, with no warranties of any kind whatsoever. Information from this document may be used with proper attribution. Alteration of this document is strictly prohibited. ©2017 by Freddie Mac.

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