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How to Find an Apartment in Seattle [Guide]

By: Justin Chaplin
January 22, 2020

Ready to find an apartment in Seattle? There are dozens of neighbors to choose from and plenty to consider before signing your next lease. Ready to transform into an apartment hunting pro?

Here's how to find an apartment in Seattle without the stress.

Seattle Neighborhoods

People know Seattle as a "City of Neighborhoods" where there's something for everyone. Whether you want to live in the middle of the hippest neighborhood featuring nightly music or want to walk your dog in a quiet area with good schools, you can find what you're looking for in Seattle. 

Not sure where to start? Here's the rundown on some of Seattle's more popular neighborhoods and what to expect.

1. Beacon Hill

In a city where long commutes are the norm, Beacon Hill provides convenient Interstate 5 and Interstate 90 access. Residents consider this area to be very safe. 

However, you'll find more traffic and people outside establishments and pubs on Rainier Avenue South. North Beacon Hill is seeing an influx of young professionals and newcomers. They're looking for convenience to pubs, live music, restaurants, and coffee shops. People also like the proximity to commuting options like the Light Rail.

New developments, apartments, and condos are on the rise throughout Beacon Hill. Those sit nearby existing single-family craftsmen homes and bungalows. 

The area is popular with young professionals and families. They're looking to settle in and enjoy access to urban amenities. Residents enjoy gathering on sunny afternoons in green spaces like Jefferson Park. 

2. Ballard

Ballard's reputation as a hipster neighborhood has evolved. It now includes a more diverse mix of young locals and families. 

This Seattle neighborhood features Scandinavian roots and an independent spirit. Its food scene is also undergoing a renaissance. It has a reputation for fresh seafood restaurants featuring daily catches. 

Much of Seattle is considered very expensive. However, Ballard still offers reasonable rent in comparison to nearby neighborhoods. 

It's also safe and is home to decent school districts for public school-minded families. Despite its increasingly family-friendly vibe and relaxed outdoor recreation, you can still get in touch with those hipster vibes. Enjoy the spirit of its live music venues, bars, cocktail lounges, and independent coffee shops and boutiques along Ballard Avenue.

3. Capitol Hill

The popular Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill is crowded and dense. That makes it a perfect spot for anyone looking to live in the middle of the action. Grunge bands play at live music venues and bars scattered throughout this LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood. 

You can walk to everything in Capitol Hill from your high-rise apartment. That includes parks like Cal Anderson Park and Volunteer Park. 

The Capitol Hill neighborhood isn't unfriendly towards kids. However, it's not known for a family-friendly vibe and amenities. 

It's a neighborhood perfect for a young crowd of professionals looking to enjoy the best of Seattle's nightlife. It's best for those who don't mind its less than sparkling safety record.

4. Downtown

Take your pick of high-rise apartments in Downtown Seattle. Ditch the car while you're at it. You can walk everywhere you want to go! 

This highly walkable neighborhood features a sea of bars, music venues, restaurants, and coffee shops. It's also home to South Lake Union, an area people know for its proximity to Amazon's headquarters.

Downtown is suitable for dogs and kids alike. However, people don't celebrate it for its ample green space or family-focused amenities and stellar schools. 

Locals report feeling safe day and night. However, as an urban area brushing up against a mix of neighborhoods, it's important to stay proactive about personal safety. 

Ditch the car to reduce your stress in this neighborhood parking desert. Instead, focus on the perks of living in a place where everything is at your doorstep!

5. North Seattle

As a booming metropolis, North Seattle is home to a variety of neighborhoods to accommodate your needs. The area is popular with newcomers looking to get acquainted with the city without sacrificing space and convenience. 

The North Seattle neighborhood of Northgate sometimes makes headlines for crime. However, people consider the overall area to be relatively safe.

Cross over the drawbridges and truss bridges of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. There, you can get to and from North Seattle's neighborhoods to downtown. 

The area is also a good option for pet lovers and families looking for a laid-back atmosphere to jog. It's also a great spot to play at parks, go shopping, and savor some low-key dining. If you're really lucky, you might even score views of Puget Sound.

6. Queen Anne

Historic homes and high-end apartment buildings line the streets of this historic Seattle neighborhood. Queen Anne attracts young professionals looking to get outdoors and hit the city's trendiest restaurants and bars. It also features quick access to the best attractions. 

The location draws residents to Queen Anne. You can find everything you need within a short walk, whether it's a neighborhood bar or the Space Needle. 

People consider the Queen Anne neighborhood to be safe. Locals don't mind walking their dogs in the evening or letting their kids play outside. 

However, it's still an urban area. So, keeping your guard up is always a wise strategy. 

When it comes to living in Seattle, remember to focus on commute times and amenities that are important to you. The city is friendly to families and outdoor lovers alike. However, some neighborhoods are easier to settle into than others, depending on your wish list.

Determine Your Budget

Found the apartment of your dreams? Make sure it fits within your budget and consider that Seattle's high cost of living could make it challenging to stick to the 30% rule. 

Look for apartments that cost no more than 30% of your pre-taxed monthly take-home pay. This is called your gross income. You can also divide your annual salary before taxes by 40 and come out with the same number.

Thinking about living alone in a studio apartment priced at $1,800? Then you should aim to gross at least $6,000 a month or $72,000 a year.

The True Cost of Renting

You may think you're all set and have your 30% nailed down. However, there are lots of hidden costs when it comes to renting. How much apartment can you really afford)? Consider all your expenses, including:

  • Apartment application fees
  • Security deposit
  • Move-in fees
  • Moving costs
  • Pet deposit

Remember that the 30% rule may still be out of reach. If you're suffering from high student debt, you may also find that spending 30% of your pre-tax income on rent is just too high. If you need extra help figuring out what you can truly afford, try our Rent Calculator designed with renters in mind.

Seattle Rental Market

You can start narrowing down the actual costs of your apartment by studying the average rental trends in Seattle. The Seattle Rent Report shows that median rents in Seattle hover around $1,345 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,675 for a two-bedroom. 

This actually shows a slight rent decrease from previous months, but rents are still slightly above the national average. The city is still competitive when it comes to fantastic apartments at a discount. If you find a deal, move fast and be ready to sign the lease.

When’s the Best Time to Move to Seattle?

There's a trick to figuring out the best time to rent an apartment in Seattle. Summer months usually bring more competition and higher rent prices, while December and January are cheaper. 

Renters can beat out the competition in the summer months by looking early and preparing to look a little longer during peak season. Coming prepared to fill out apartment applications and bringing along proper documentation can also help speed up the process.

Commuting In Seattle

Seattle boasts an excellent walk score of 99 walk score and gets a 100 transit score for world-class public transportation. It’s a “Walker’s Paradise,” but also pretty congested if you plan to drive. Look for apartments with proximity to work or public transportation to ease your commute time.

Public Transportation in Seattle

Despite the traffic, transportation options are plentiful around Seattle. Choose from streetcar, link light rail, monorail, and other rail options. You can also hop on the metro bus or take the ferries or water taxis. 

Expect to pay about $2.75 and $4.75 per fare, depending on how far you travel with the ORCA public transportation card. And of course, walking and biking are free if you're sticking to a budget.

Set Your Apartment Priorities

The good news is there are tons of apartments in Seattle to choose from. However, that also means trying to narrow down your search and figure out how to prioritize. Here's the rundown on everything you need to decide on before starting your Seattle apartment search:

1. Amenities

What are your must-haves for your next apartment? Make a list of all your necessities, as well as your ultimate wish list that you can compromise on. Include amenities like stainless steel appliances to the balcony and on-site fitness center. 

Staying clear about your goals can help identify the apartment of your dreams, or make adjustments if it feels out of reach for your budget.

2. Seattle Location/Neighborhood

Determine the best neighborhood for you. Consider the commute time, walkability, area restaurants and bars, and the vibe you want. Living in the middle of the action may seem like fun, but be honest with yourself. Do you prefer coming home to quiet? A more residential neighborhood may be a better fit.

3. Price

Budget plays a significant role in the kind of Seattle apartment you settle on. Sticking to that 30% rule and aligning it with your location and amenities of choice can help narrow your options. 

Apartment List can also help match you with the perfect apartment to fit your wish list. Click on the button below and answer a few quick questions about your apartment preferences. Next, we’ll show you Seattle apartments that match what you’re looking for.

Prepare for Apartment Tours

When you find that perfect apartment, it's time to prep for the apartment tour. Go ahead and bring cash, credit cards, or check to pay for your application fee. You should also have your ID ready to go, as well as proof of income and references. 

Landlords prefer references from other landlords, but are also willing to be flexible. Get tips on how the apartment application process works here.

The apartment tour is also the time to ask about anything like noise, building rules, pets, and wish list items. For example, are you allowed to paint the apartment, and if so, what colors? Come prepared for your tour with these 12 questions to ask when renting an apartment

Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

Rental fraud costs U.S. renters $5.2 million, and one in three people have lost over $1,000 after paying a security deposit on a fraudulent property. Scams range from bait and switch to fraudulent listings for apartments that don't even exist. 

Stay diligent and learn about how to avoid rental scams. But as a good rule of thumb, if the apartment is too good to be true and the price is rock bottom, then proceed with extreme caution.

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