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Sometimes known as America’s Finest City, San Diego is a perennially popular place thanks to its year-round sunshine, miles of picturesque coastline and outdoor lifestyle. But all of these attractions come with a steep price-tag, as the city is also one of the more expensive places in the country to live. From housing to utilities, food to transportation, the city is more expensive than national averages on nearly every measure.
California’s steep housing costs are infamous, and San Diego is no exception. In fact, according to RentCafe data, you’ll spend a whopping 119 percent more than the national average on housing in San Diego.
Homeownership in San Diego is a pricey goal. In September 2022, the average single-family home cost a very high $915,000, according to data from the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors. The price of condos and townhomes hovered around $600,000 — still significantly above the national median home price of $384,800. Overall, prices in the city were up 14 percent year-over-year.
As the national real estate market cools, however, prices are beginning to decline slightly. Recent reports show that prices in the city have been dropping for the past four months, and houses are remaining on the market longer, an average of 28 days.
In addition, the pace of sales for previously owned homes dropped 10.7 percent in September compared to August. In fact, by some accounts, San Diego is actually edging toward a buyer’s market: Some sellers are even offering to pay closing costs for buyers, which was unheard of throughout the early part of the pandemic.
Renting in San Diego is not much easier on the wallet. The median monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit is $2,566, and $1,990 for a one-bedroom, according to an Apartment List Rent Report. Overall, that represents a 7.7 percent increase over one year earlier. That puts the year-over-year increase in San Diego rental costs ahead of the state average, which was 5.3 percent, and ahead of the national average of 5.7 percent, as well.
The good news on the rental front is that costs have actually dropped 1 percent month-over-month. October was the second month running that rents declined in the city.
Job market in San Diego
San Diego offers a strong job market. As of September, its unemployment rate had reached a historic low for the city of 3.1 percent. That’s lower than both the California state unemployment rate and the national unemployment rate for the same time period.
For those looking for opportunity, the city is home to one of the country’s fastest growing software services and tech start-up markets. From 2017 to 2020, the city’s IT sector experienced a record 188 percent revenue growth. Some of the top employers located in San Diego include Qualcomm, Kyocera Mobile and the global biotech company CSL. In addition, the education sector has been on a hiring spree in San Diego, adding more than 10,000 jobs in schools, colleges and universities in September.
The average salary in San Diego is $68,379, according to ZipRecruiter. That amounts to about $33 per hour or $1,314 weekly. In general, most annual salaries in San Diego are somewhere between $51,000 and $84,000.
Food costs in San Diego are 13 percent higher than the national average, per RentCafe’s data. Groceries specifically cost about 7 percent more than in the rest of the country, according to Bungalow, which estimates the average San Diegan’s monthly grocery tab at about $291. The good news? That price tag is actually less than you would spend on groceries in any of California’s other major cities.
Transportation in San Diego
Unless you live right downtown, the public transportation options in greater San Diego are relatively limited. That’s one of the reasons transportation costs in the city are 32 percent higher than national averages. Another reason is gas prices. Average November prices are high in California overall at $5.47 per gallon, according to AAA, and in San Diego they are slightly higher at $5.51. Car insurance, meanwhile, averages about $1,976 per year for full coverage, compared with the national average cost of $1,771.
The public transportation options that are available, buses and trolleys, are offered through the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, which locally is known as MTS. A one-way, adult fare is $2.50, and a monthly pass costs $72.
Local and state taxes
Like many of the city’s other living expenses, taxes in San Diego, and California overall, are relatively steep.
- The property tax rate in the city is 0.73 percent. On a home worth $800,000, that amounts to $5,840 annually.
- The local sales tax rate in San Diego, as of October, is 7.75 percent.
- San Diego residents are subject to the California income tax rate, which follows a graduated tax system: The more money you make, the higher your rate. The tax brackets begin at 1 percent and range up to 13.3%, for individuals earning more than $1 million per year.
Moving to San Diego
With its vibrant quality of life, great weather and growing job opportunities, moving to San Diego is alluring. But be sure to do your research first and determine whether you can find affordable housing and reasonably make ends meet in this expensive city. Don’t forget to factor moving costs into your budget as well, especially if you’re moving from far away.
It’s a good idea to connect with a local Realtor who knows the region well. And give yourself time to explore the variety of unique neighborhoods throughout San Diego to find the area that’s best for you, your family, your interests and your budget.
Living costs can vary greatly from one household to the next depending on a variety of factors, including family size and lifestyle. However, according to Numbeo, the estimated monthly cost for a single person is about $1,102, excluding the cost of housing. For a family of four, that number goes up to $3,945.
Housing in San Diego is 11 percent higher than the California state average. However, other costs, like healthcare and transportation are all less expensive than California average costs. Use Bankrate’s cost of living calculator to compare costs from one California city to another.
The cost of living in San Diego is comparable to Los Angeles, though slightly cheaper. According to Bankrate’s cost of living calculator, living costs in L.A. are 4.85 percent higher than they are in San Diego.
The average salary in the city is $68,379, according to ZipRecruiter. But San Diego’s housing costs, which are more than double the national average, take a big bite out of that salary. Both sale prices and average rents are high here, which means whether you rent or own, you’ll have to spend more of your salary on housing costs than you would in much of the rest of the country.