You can find rental bargains in the Northern San Joaquin Valley

Apartment rents continue to be a relative bargain throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The asking price for monthly rent is about what it was five years ago, according to RealFacts. And that's before the impact of incentives is calculated in.

Most landlords offer deals to fill vacancies, such as "one month free" and "$399 moves you in" specials. Such rental-rate discounts are not factored in to to RealFacts' averages.

The average rent asked by Modesto's larger apartment complexes in January, February and March was $798, 3.2 percent lower than the same period last year and about what Modesto tenants were paying in mid-2005.

Rents were 3.6 percent lower nationwide and 4.2 percent lower statewide this winter compared with the year before. Although rents elsewhere dropped more than they did in the valley, apartments here are much cheaper.

California's average asking rent was $1,348, and the U.S. average was $943.

As usual, the closer to the Bay Area an apartment is, the higher the rent.

San Francisco's average was $2,219, which was more than double Manteca's $953 average and more than triple Mer- ced's $732 average.

Excess vacancies continue to plague apartment complexes in the valley.

In Modesto a decade ago, the apartment occupancy rate was 98.3 percent, but that has fallen to 91.4 percent, according to RealFacts. That is why landlords have reduced rents and increased incentives.

The apartment occupancy rates have been affected by the housing crisis in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. As the market collapsed and foreclosures soared, investors moved in to snap up cheap properties.

Many of those homes have been turned into rentals, experts say. With more homes for rent and more likely to come on the market until the inventory of foreclosed properties shrinks, rental rates are expected to remain low.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.