The torrid pace of rent increases in the Bay Area is slowing, according to a survey of apartment complexes released Monday.

Average rents in the East Bay, Peninsula and San Francisco were nearly unchanged in the fourth quarter of last year and declined slightly in the South Bay, according to RealFacts, a Novato consulting group that tracks rents in apartment complexes with 50 or more units. That compares with the first half of the year, when some areas saw quarterly increases of 4 percent.

Some renters may be deciding that interest rates and low prices have made the time right to buy a condo, and that may account for some of the leveling off of rents, a RealFacts representative said. Occupancy rates for apartments have flattened out while condo sales were in the double digits in December from a year earlier in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Average rents in the South Bay dropped in the last three months of 2012.
Average rents in the South Bay dropped in the last three months of 2012. (Bay Area News Group)

The South Bay saw a 1.4 percent decline in rents, from $1,981 to $1,954 a month, while the East Bay and Peninsula remained at $1,859 a month, the company said.

"Rents have hit a wall," RealFacts owner Sarah Bridge said in a release accompanying the report.

She said RealFacts predicted last year that San Jose and San Francisco metro areas would plateau in early 2013, "but it appears that this has already happened in the fourth quarter."

In San Jose, rents declined slightly to $1,825 in the fourth quarter from $1,845 the previous quarter. Oakland saw a slight increase to $1,961 from $1,925 in the third quarter. Concord's average rent increased slightly to $1,288.

A two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in San Jose was commanding $1,644, down from $1,669 in the third quarter; the same size apartment in Concord went for $1,201 a month, and in Oakland for $1,654 a month, both slight increases, RealFacts said.

The small fourth-quarter increases in those cities ended a year that saw a gain of 17 percent over the previous year in Oakland, 8.8 percent in San Jose and 5.4 percent in Concord.

"We've seen increases almost every quarter. Now it's flattened out a little bit," said Nick Grotjahn, a RealFacts spokesman.

Grotjahn said rent increases also leveled off slightly in the fourth quarter of 2011, but this time "we think they've hit a ceiling as other factors are coming into play. I'm hearing the condo market is coming back, and that's really the alternative to apartments," Grotjahn said.

Young renters "are probably thinking it's a good time to buy," he said. "They can have the same lifestyle but the money is going toward something you own."

Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him on Twitter.com/petecarey.