Ins and Outs of Renting in Oz Town
As in any city where the main industry is technology, there’s a high turnover in Seattle. That means most landlords will expect you to sign a 6- or 12-month lease to ensure occupancy. Be prepared to drop a deposit (at least $500, some portion of which might be a non-refundable cleaning fee), as well as commit to getting a background check. Pet fees usually run $50-200 (one-time) if the complex allows them. Finally, unless you’re living in Downtown or Capitol Hill, every apartment should come with a parking space.
OK, let’s get down to the neighborhoods. Central Seattle sits on an isthmus partitioning the Puget Sound and Lake Washington. The most prime locations are on this isthmus, and the midrange and lower range occupy either the coattails of the wee isthmus-man or his bulky top hat, the peninsula above. We’ll start with the isthmus-man’s west side.
Downtown/International District: Love taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island on the weekend? Parking at the ferry landing can be a pain—but not if you live three blocks away! Safeco and Qwest Fields, the Seattle Aquarium, and the heaps of restaurants along the waterfront are some of the other perks you’ll gobble up if you live Downtown. The closest neighborhood to the CBD, Downtown has apartments on offer for those with a large budget. One-bedroom units range from eco-minded condos in the ID ($1300/month) to “luxury apartment homes” on 8th Ave. ($2500/month).
Capitol Hill: While Capitol Hill gets all the buzz for being the new bohemian enclave, there are quite a few neighborhoods on the east side of the isthmus-man worth exploring. Historically the African-American sector (Garfield Public High School saw the likes of both Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix waltz through its doors), this area was slowly gentrified throughout the 80s and 90s. Smallish Capitol Hill one-bedrooms start at $800/month; if you want a larger studio with a view of the water for the same price, check out the Madison Park neighborhood.
Queen Anne: The original suburb, Seattle grew up rapidly around this gem. Queen Anne is close to the CBD and waterfront, but retains an all-American feel. Commute time to the CBD is negligible, and you often get a fantastic view of the Space Needle to boot. You’ve just got to ask your retired neighbor to take you out on his yacht! One-bedrooms in Lower Queen Anne start at $1000/month.
North Seattle: These neighborhoods lie north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which is traversed via a series of drawbridges and truss bridges. The drawbridges are more convenient for communities west toward the Puget Sound to enter Downtown Seattle; as you can anticipate, this scenario creates some obvious commuting difficulties. Keep this in mind when choosing a neighborhood. Also, most of the complexes in these areas are pet-friendly.
• Wallingford and Fremont are the closest neighborhoods to central Seattle and therefore enjoy the shortest commute times (expect 15-20 minutes on a morning metro bus from the north end of Fremont; longer in the evenings). $1100/month is a decent price for a one-bedroom condo in Wallingford. After all, Dave Matthews does live here…
• Ballard’s an old hipster stomping ground—now filled with young couples enjoying the unique restaurant and bar scene. But that’s not to say there aren’t singles here: they just might be a few years into their careers. Commute times are only slightly longer (30 minutes on a morning metro bus to the CBD) and rent is more affordable. Spacious one-bedrooms will average $800/month and economical two-bedroom triplex units get as low as $1100/month.
• As you travel further north, rent prices drop and likelihood of a decent-sized yard reaches 100%. Green Lake and Ravenna are comparable and offer one-bedrooms for $700/month. Shoreline would be the lowest cost of these communities, though go any further and you might as well live in Everett.
• The University District, named after the University of Washington, hugs Portage and Union Bays on the other side of I-5 from Wallingford. Rent is cheaper here, if only due to the amount of competition UW students bring in. A one-bedroom condo might run $750/month; two-bedroom units rarely break $1200/month.
Beacon Hill: The less expensive alternative to Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill is known for its historic Craftsman bungalow homes and rich cultural diversity—despite being considered a predominantly Asian-American area for years. Commuting into the CBD, however, may afford trouble as you’ve got to pass through the tunnel, and the SeaTac air traffic may be heard on most nights (the flight path from the runway is directly above North Beacon Hill). $850/month is an average price for a one-bedroom apartment to live in this community.
West Seattle: The commute from West Seattle is one of the least desirable in the metro area. This is both because the drive in to I-5 is along a viaduct receives constant maintenance and because if you’re traveling anywhere other than the CBD (say, along I-405 out to Bellevue), the transfer from one freeway to another incurs heedless traffic control lights and confusing on-ramps. Not many one-bedrooms under $750/month make this area a gamble—unless, of course, you love that solitude.
Bellevue and Points East: Bellevue is a newer community residing on the east side of Lake Washington. It’s often disparaged for its cookie-cutter feel , but Bellevue-ians typically report a solid feeling of communality and a high quality of life. Plus, commuting from Bellevue isn’t as bad as it might seem: morning car trips to Seattle CBD usually range 30-35 minutes, with a few minutes longer in the evening/afternoon. Anything beyond Bellevue can get atrocious, however, as I-405 sees far more consistent traffic than I-5. (There is metro bus service between Seattle and Bellevue, but service ends east of Lake Sammamish.) Nicer one-bedrooms will cost around $1000/month and won’t allow pets, while economical two-bedroom apartments further away from Bellevue Square average $1300/month and tolerate Fido.
Grunge Legacy, Green Future
The list of nineties alt-rock bands that got their start in Seattle is impressive: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden are just the tip of the iceberg. This musical legacy set the tone for much of the city’s entertainment culture for over a decade, and still exerts considerable force. Flannel and cutoff jeans might have undergone a recent revival in Brooklyn, but they never lost credibility in Seattle.
Moreover, all that angst captured by Kurt Cobain’s immortal lyrics fits curiously well with the general atmosphere of Seattle. That’s right: the constant rain can put a damper on even the brightest spirits. We suggest that you invest in some good boots and raingear. Don’t worry, though. Seattle’s own REI can supply your every need. And exactly what you’ll need depends on how often you’ll be forced to walk around outside: Do you expect to commute to work? Bike much? Play in the rain, just for kicks?
Traversing the Yellow Brick Road
Public transport in Seattle is making incredible strides with the creation of a new light rail (connecting Seattle to Everett and Tacoma) and streetcar (in the South Lake Union zone of the CBD), but the city is still one of the most car-congested cities in the U.S. But don’t lose hope, anxious car commuter! The Washington Department of Transportation maintains a great website delineating real travel times between Seattle and its many suburbs. Seattle recently pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2030, a feat it hopes to achieve primarily by instituting new technology (unsurprising for the city that houses Microsoft and Amazon.com).
Good luck, Dorothy! May the emerald road rise up to meet you, and may you find the perfect little apartment for your newly initiated existence in Seattle, perhaps the most coveted city in the Pacific Northwest.
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