Prominent rent growth indices often give strikingly different measurements of rent inflation. We create new indices from Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) rent microdata using a repeat-rent index methodology and show that this discrepancy is almost entirely explained by differences in rent growth for new tenants relative to the average rent growth for all tenants. Rent inflation for new tenants leads the official BLS rent inflation by four quarters. As rent is the largest component of the consumer price index, this has implications for our understanding of aggregate inflation dynamics and guiding monetary policy.
Housing rents are a large share of household budgets and make a large contribution to overall inflation. Rent inflation rates for different types of housing units sometimes diverge, even in the same neighborhoods. We estimate during 2013 to 2016 apartment rents outpaced rents for detached housing in the United States by 0.76 percentage points annually after controlling for location effects. These rent dynamics imply a segmented housing market. They also suggest rent indexes need to be based on data structurally representative of their measurement objective. In particular, indexes based on professionally managed apartment complexes mismeasure the rents for housing generally. Even indexes based on careful geographical sampling, such as the Consumer Price Index’s Owners’ Equivalent Rent component, may be biased by using an unrepresentative mix of apartments and houses.