How to Find Rental Comps and Set Market Rents for Real Estate Investments

Published by
Marc Rutzen
December 2, 2023
How to Find Rental Comps and Set Market Rents for Real Estate Investments

Whether it’s for a multifamily property or single-family rental (SFR), every rental property investor wants to collect the highest rent possible to maximize the value of their investment. But it can be difficult to find good sources of rental market data, and challenging to determine which properties are truly relevant rent comps for your investment.

In this article, I'll explain the best ways to find rental comps that help set fair market rents, reduce turnover, and maximize the value of your investment properties.

What are Rental Comps?

Rental comps (also referred to as rent comps, comparable properties, or simply comps), are used to compare similar rental properties and set market rents.

The process of surveying rental comps is similar to creating a comparative market analysis (CMA) for a single-family property valuation. Instead of determining property valuations though, rental comp analysis is meant to set a competitive and fair market rent for each of your units.

If you want to attract good tenants and minimize vacancy, you need to keep your property’s rent in line with the rents other investors are charging for comparable units.

The market is the market – you can’t just charge whatever you want and expect to maximize profitability. Charge too little, and you’re clearly going to leave money on the table. Charge too much, and you’ll also leave money on the table… in the form of higher vacancy rates and a longer downtime before securing your next tenant.

Your goal should be to attract the most qualified tenants, keep vacancy rates low, and keep your gross rental income and cash flows as high as the market will support.

What to Include in a Rental Comp Analysis

The best rental comps come from properties that are nearby and very similar to the property you are analyzing – also referred to as the “subject” property. Market rents vary from one neighborhood to the next, and sometimes even from block to block in the same market area.

Here are a few of the most important variables to analyze in your rental comp analysis:

  • Location – Everyone knows the old adage used by real estate agents that the three most important factors in determining the desirability of a property are "location, location, location". It’s true that location is one of the biggest factors, as it can significantly influence rental demand and market rents. Proximity to amenities, public transport, schools, and business districts can increase a property's appeal and rental value.
  • Property Size and Layout – The square footage and the layout (number of bedrooms and bathrooms) of each rental unit directly affect rental prices. Larger properties or those with more bedrooms generally command higher rents.
  • Single vs. Multi-Story Properties – This can influence tenant preference. For example, families might prefer single-story homes for accessibility, while others might prefer multi-story properties for the additional space.
  • Condition and Quality of the Property – Newer or recently renovated properties can attract higher rents due to their modern features and lower maintenance needs. The overall condition of the property impacts tenant attraction and retention (and this is something we’ve built technology specifically to address with our real estate image analysis API).

  • Property Amenities and Features – Features like central air conditioning, in-unit laundry, parking facilities, and community amenities (fitness centers, pools, etc.) can make a property more attractive and justify higher rent. HelloData uses both computer vision and natural language processing to automatically extract and analyze property amenities as part of our rental comp recommendation algorithm.
  • Community Amenities – Proximity to parks, public transit, shopping, and restaurants enhances the livability of the area and can be a strong selling point for potential tenants.
  • Property Management Policies – Properties that are pet friendly, offer modern rent payment infrastructure (utilizing software like ClickPay for example), and provide an efficient and positive resident experience will often outperform other properties with similar attributes but outdated processes.

  • Local Market Rental Rates – Understanding the average rent for similar properties in the area helps in setting competitive yet realistic rent prices. To identify the true market rent though, you have to account for rent concessions that were present at the time each unit was leased. This is something we cover extensively with our rent concession extraction algorithms and net effective rent calculator in the HelloData platform.
  • Rent Per Sqft – Analyzing market rental rates in terms of rent per sqft provides a standardized way to compare rental prices across different properties, regardless of size. It's a useful metric for understanding the market rate in a specific area.
  • Market Demographics – The target tenant demographic (students, families, professionals) can influence what aspects of a property are most valued and thus impact rent pricing.
  • Lease Terms – The duration of the lease, payment terms, and other conditions can affect the desirability and pricing of a rental property. Many properties that use revenue management systems can now automatically offer multiple options for lease terms at different price points, helping address a broader market of prospective renters.
  • Vacancy Rates and Time on Market – High vacancy rates (or low occupancy rates, these terms are the inverse of each other) in an area may suggest a lower demand, potentially impacting how much rent can be charged. If market vacancy rates can’t be easily determined, looking at how long units remain on the market can be a good substitute for occupancy.
  • Historical Rent Trends – Analysis of how rents have changed over time in the area can provide insights into market dynamics and future trends. Properties in markets with upward trending rents will appreciate in value more rapidly.
  • Economic Factors – The overall economic health of the area, including employment rates and income levels, can influence people's ability to pay rent and thus affect rental prices.

At this point, you’re probably thinking “Wow, that’s a lot to analyze”. It’s true – being a successful real estate investor is hard work. This is exactly why we built to automate the rental market analysis process for real estate investors, which we’ll talk more about below.

Where to Find Rental Comps

There are several resources you can use to find comparable rents and put together a rent comp analysis, including both online and offline sources. Here are a few of the best options:

Offline Sources of Rental Comp Data

  • Real Estate Brokers and Leasing Agents – Local real estate agents have in-depth knowledge of the rental market. They can provide data on comparable properties, including rent prices, property features, and local market trends. They can also provide information about the rents other investors are actually achieving (which can be very different from asking rents), and what rent concessions they are offering prospective residents to sign a lease.
  • Property Management Companies – These companies manage multiple rental properties and can offer insights into rental prices and property features in the area. They handle other rental properties similar to yours, and can give you a good idea of the best rent to attract qualified tenants who pay the rent on time and consistently renew their leases.
  • Networking with Other Landlords or Investors – Building relationships with other property owners in your area can provide valuable insights. They can share experiences and data regarding rental rates, tenant preferences, and market trends. Fellow investors are usually willing to help out, because even though you’re their competition, you may also make a good joint venture partner for a larger deal in the future.
  • Real Estate Investment Clubs and Meetups – Joining local real estate investment groups or attending meetups can connect you with experienced investors who have comprehensive knowledge of the local market. These clubs often host local seminars and workshops too, which can provide educational resources and networking opportunities to learn about the rental market.
  • Appraisers and Property Inspectors – Professionals who routinely assess properties can offer insights into the condition, features, and potential rental value of properties in a specific area. Many times appraisers also have access to expensive rental market analysis products (because they analyze enough deals to justify the expense) and can pull market reports for you.

Online Sources of Rental Comp Data

  • Real Estate Listing Websites – Websites like Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist and provide extensive listings for rental properties. These sites often include detailed information on rental rates, property features, and neighborhood data. The Rent Zestimate can also provide a good starting point for pricing your rental listings. Rental listings on Craigslist can help you see what individual home or condo owners may be charging for market rents too – data which is harder to come by on paid listing sites.
  • Property Websites and Property Management Company Websites – Many property management companies list available rentals on their websites, providing another source for current market rates and property features. Larger properties tend to have their own property websites too, which often have more accurate and more up-to-date data than rental listing sites.
  • Government Housing Agencies – The websites of local or federal housing agencies (such as HUD in the United States) can provide data on fair market rents and other housing market statistics. NOTE: Fair market rents in this context mean a different thing than “reasonable market rents” though. We explain the difference in this help article.
  • Industry Reports and Online Real Estate Forums – Reports from real estate market research firms or reputable real estate blogs regularly analyze and discuss rental market trends. Real estate investment forums (like BiggerPockets) and local Facebook groups can also provide a wealth of information. Blogs focused on real estate investing in specific regions can be valuable too – providing localized insights into rental rates and market conditions.
  • Paid Market Data Services – Tools like CoStar and Rentometer can provide rental market analyses, including average rents and historical trends. The problem with these products is the timeliness and accuracy of the data. When the data you receive is from calls made a month ago, it doesn’t include the latest rents and concessions. Because rents and concessions fluctuate every day, the accuracy of the data really depends on when it was collected. It’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of services like these.

Rent Comps for Multifamily vs Single-Family Rental (SFR) Investments

When analyzing rent comps, single-family investments require more focus on unique features and neighborhood attributes, while multifamily properties have more uniform units and shared amenities. This means recently signed leases for units in the same property can be used to inform multifamily rents, while in SFR they cannot. In single-family rentals, since tenants tend to stay for longer terms, property characteristics like layout and private amenities play a larger role. In multifamily, market trends and the quality of shared facilities tend to be more important.

Below are examples of a multifamily comp analysis and an SFR comp analysis to illustrate some of these differences:

Comp Analysis for a Multifamily Investment Property

Property Description: 10-unit apartment building, each unit 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom, 800 sq. ft.

Location: Urban area, close to public transportation and amenities, higher crime rate.

Comparable Properties:

  • Comp 1: 12-unit building, 2-bed, 1-bath units, average rent $1,200/unit.
  • Comp 2: 8-unit building, 2-bed, 1-bath units, average rent $1,100/unit.
  • Comp 3: 10-unit building, 2-bed, 1.5-bath units, average rent $1,250/unit.

Analysis: Average rent for comparable properties is approximately $1,183/unit.

Considerations: Building amenities, unit upgrades, and management quality can influence rent levels.

Comp Analysis for a Single-Family Rental (SFR) Investment

Property Description: 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house, 1,500 sq. ft.

Location: Suburban neighborhood, good schools, moderate crime rate.

Comparable Properties:

  • Comp 1: 3-bed, 2-bath, 1,450 sq. ft. house rented for $1,500/month.
  • Comp 2: 3-bed, 2.5-bath, 1,600 sq. ft. house rented for $1,650/month.
  • Comp 3: 3-bed, 2-bath, 1,400 sq. ft. house rented for $1,550/month.

Analysis: The average rent for comparable properties is approximately $1,567/month.

Considerations: Property condition, amenities, and exact location may adjust rent up or down.

Key Differences in Analysis

  1. Unit Homogeneity: Multi-family properties often have units that are more similar to each other compared to the variation found in single-family homes.
  2. Scale: Rent analysis for multi-family properties must consider the larger scale, including shared amenities and overall building condition.
  3. Market Dynamics: Multi-family investments are often more sensitive to broader market trends and economic factors than single-family rentals.
  4. Management and Operational Costs: These costs can differ significantly between the two types of investments and affect net income.

Don't forget to include factors like vacancy rates, local market trends, property taxes, and maintenance costs to get a comprehensive understanding of the investment's potential.

How to Value Real Estate Investments

Investors buy properties for the stable cash flow and tax benefits these investments generate, so it makes sense that the value of an investment property depends on its income generating potential.

There are three ways to determine the market value of a property: The Income Approach, the Sales Comparison Approach, and the Cost Approach.

For most investment properties, the Income Approach makes the most sense, because income is why you're buying it in the first place. But it's also important to use the Sales Comparison Approach to make sure you're not paying above market.

As a first step, ask your broker to prepare a Broker Opinion of Value (BOV) to compare with the asking price. This will give you a good sense of the market value, but you should always do your own due diligence too. Here are the steps for that analysis.

Step 1: Compare Market Rents to the Asking Price for the Property

You’ve already surveyed your rent comps, so you know how much rent the property should be generating. If the property is being marketed for sale, you'll receive a rent roll as part of the due diligence process. Make sure to analyze the rent roll to see if the in-place rents are too high, too low, or at market.

Below-market rents could indicate the property is under market because it needs repairs. Check if rents are above market too, because tenants paying above-market are more likely to leave for a cheaper place when their leases expire. Turnover costs can be significant if you have to find a new tenant.

You can use the 1% Rule (which states that a rental property should generate a minimum gross monthly rent of at least 1% of its market value) to ballpark where rents should be, then compare with your comps.

If the property is being marketed for sale at $200,000, the 1% rule means rents should total at least $2,000 per month to make the investment worthwhile:

  • Property Value x 1% = Monthly Rent
  • $200,000 x 1% = $2,000 Monthly Rent

If the comps indicate rents of $2,500 per month are achievable, it exceeds the 1% Rule minimum:

  • $2,500 / $200,000 = 1.25%

If the comps come in at less than $1,000 per month for the subject property, there may not be enough cash flow to cover repairs & maintenance, mortgage payments, etc. Unless you’re buying a value-add deal, it might be better to pass.

Step 2: Model Income and Operating Expenses

Next, you need to determine the costs of owning and operating the property and subtract those from your gross income to arrive at your Net Operating Income (NOI):

  1. Determine the Gross Potential Revenue by adding up the rents and other income (parking, laundry, etc.)
  2. Subtract your estimated vacancy loss to get to Effective Gross Income (EGI)
  3. Subtract all operating expenses from EGI to calculate NOI

Using the 10-unit multifamily property we outlined above as an example, with average rents of about $1,200/unit, you could generate $144,000 per year in rents if the property is fully occupied. If you find that comparable properties are getting $1,000 per month in other income, add that figure to get your Gross Potential Revenue. This would be $156,000 for our hypothetical 10-unit property.

Properties are rarely fully occupied though - tenants eventually move, and that results in vacancy loss.

If other properties in the market are seeing 5% vacancy rates (ask your broker) then you'd subtract 5% from that $156k figure to get an EGI of $148,200.

If your EGI is $148,200 and your operating expenses (excluding mortgage payments) are $60,000 a year, your NOI is $88,200.

To calculate net cash flow, subtract your annual mortgage payment from your NOI:

  • $88,200 NOI - $70,560 annual mortgage payment = $17,640 net cash flow

Step 3: Determine Property Value

With your income and expenses modeled, you can now estimate the value of the property. Ask your broker what market cap rates are for similar properties, or look at recent sales in the market on a resource like CoStar to estimate cap rates.

From there it's very simple - just divide NOI by cap rate.

$88,200 NOI / 6% cap rate = $1,470,000

Basically, if you want to make a 6% return, you should be willing to pay $1.47M for the property. Of course that's after securing a mortgage, so your true out of pocket costs would likely be around $441k (30% cash, 70% mortgage).

You can also use the Gross Rent Multiplier (GRM) which compares the gross rental income to the property value. You'll have to ask your broker for typical GRMs too, they should have a strong knowledge of the market. The lower the GRM the more profitable an investment is:

  • GRM = Property value / Gross annual rent
  • $1,470,000 property value / $144,000 gross annual rent = 10.21 GRM

By themselves, these calculations don’t tell you how strong an investment is. But by comparing the numbers to other recent sales, you can understand the value of your property relative to others in the market.

HelloData: Automated Rental Comp Analysis

If you’re analyzing rent comps and evaluating property values manually, everything above is important to understand. As someone who has worked in real estate development, investment and brokerage for many years, I’ve personally done rental comp analyses and leveraged many of these sources to support my market rent conclusions.

Having done it firsthand, the team at knows EXACTLY how time consuming it is to determine your most relevant rent comps, analyze their market rents, calculate the value of net effective rents from posted specials, and derive accurate market rents for both single and multifamily investments.

This is why we built HelloData in the first place. Our platform automates rental comp analysis in several key ways:

We Find the Comps that Renters Consider to be Comparable

We use computer vision to determine the condition, quality and amenities in over 2.1 million multifamily and single-family rental properties throughout the U.S., and we use this data to identify properties that compete for the same renters.

By analyzing the visual appeal of rental properties from listing photos, in addition to extracting and standardizing over 200 unique building and unit level amenities, we help facilitate apples-to-apples comparisons of millions of listings every day.

By combining this approach with detailed demographic data, crime levels, school district ratings, and each of the attributes mentioned above, our platform can identify rental comps more accurately than any other platform on the market.

Our comps align with appraiser rent comp selections over 90% of the time (granted appraisers aren’t perfect themselves, and have subjectivity baked into their analyses). Since appraisals are required for financing on any investment property, delivering the same comps as appraisers do is a key advantage of our platform.

We Capture the Closing Price of Every Unit

It’s one thing to visit a property website or listing site and see what their asking rent is. It’s another thing entirely to track rents every single day and capture the asking rent on the day each listing is removed from the market.

In single-family, if someone lists their home (a for sale by owner listing for example) at $1M dollars, no appraiser, broker or investor in their right minds would just accept that as the market value of the property.

Yet in multifamily, analysts visit property websites and listing sites every day, copying asking rents straight into their pro formas as if they are indicative of market rents. Nonsense.

We capture where the most similar units in the market (at the floorplan level) actually closed because that’s how real estate valuation is supposed to be done. We’re essentially performing a mini-appraisal on millions of multifamily listings across the U.S. every day to help investors and asset managers determine true market rents.

HelloData Calculates Net Effective Rents from the Concessions that were Active when Each Unit Closed

Asking rent is important, but net effective rent is the REAL market rent. If a landlord is offering 2 months of free rent for any tenant who signs a lease by the end of November, that means they are paying 10 months of a 12 month lease. That’s 16.7% less than what was advertised!

If you’re off by 16.7% on your market rent analysis, when typical real estate returns are around 15% (and definitely less in 2023 with rent growth largely flat across the U.S.), you’re going to lose your ass on that investment. If you’re an analyst, you’ll lose your job.

HelloData is the only platform that tracks the specials posted across thousands of property websites and several listing sites every day, using AI to extract the dollar value of concessions from the specials text. We calculate net effective rents in real time for you using the latest advancements in AI, so you always know the true market rent for every unit, in every rent comp.

At the end of the day, there are many sources of market data and many ways to identify rental comps. You can use your judgement and experience to determine what is comparable, then copy asking rents from property websites, Zillow, etc. and analyze that data to estimate market rents. If you don’t phone it in, it takes hours – I know because I’ve done it countless times myself.

But if you have an address, and you’re interested in accurately identifying rental comps, surveying market rents and determining property value in SECONDS, try

Property managers, investors, brokers and appraisers all use HelloData to analyze multifamily comps, optimize rents, and increase deal flow.

Marc Rutzen

Marc worked in real estate for 5 years before launching multifamily analytics startup Enodo, which he sold to Walker & Dunlop (NYSE: WD) in 2019. At W&D, he served as Chief Product Officer, developing products that helped source billions in loan volume. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, running, and spending time with family.

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