America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Seattle

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Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

There are some telltale signs you’re hunting for an affordable apartment in Seattle. First, you’ve heard of “apodments”. Second, you know that paying $930 in rent for 150 square feet of living space is something people actually do. Third, you’ve at least considered a communal kitchen at some point during your hunt.

How much does renting cost in Seattle?

While not quite as pricey as Los Angeles, Seattle is currently the eighth most expensive rental market in the U.S. One-bedroom apartments go for a median price of $1,960, according to apartment-listing site Zumper. Renters insurance, meanwhile, runs tenants between $11 to $15 a month. (You can find the best renters insurance in Seattle here.)

What’s behind the high price tag?

“There’s been an infusion of money into Seattle,” Sophia Stendahl, a residential broker and owner of the Windermere agency on Vashon Island, says.

The nation’s fastest-growing big city since the beginning of the decade, Seattle has seen an influx of about 114,000 new arrivals, many of them tech workers. The ensuing housing crunch drove rents up by nearly 60% since 2011, according to a Seattle Times analysis of data from Apartment Insights/RealData. The uptick led to extreme housing trends like furnished micro-apartments (those closet-sized apodments) and houses-turned-dorms with a dozen 30-something roommates.

How to find affordable rent in Seattle

In addition, many would-be homebuyers have been unable to afford their dream house, so they continue to rent for years, further propping up demand. (Seattle renters actually rate among the savviest in the nation. For more on why, check our the Policygenius Renters Index.)

If there’s any good news for Seattle renters, it’s on the supply side. Rents are rising at a somewhat slower rate, thanks to the frenetic pace of new apartment construction. Here are some ways to find more affordable rental units in Seattle.

1. Avoid Capitol Hill & Columbia City

A Seattle native, Stendahl remembers a few years back when neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Columbia City were affordable for young people starting their careers and creative types with modest budgets.

“Now it’s become very, very expensive and has a different vibe,” she says. “Most young families can’t even afford to be in Capitol Hill at this point.”

Likewise, Columbia City, with its charming bakeries, art centers and community-spirited communes “has exploded in the last three years and is quite unaffordable for renters, because that’s where people want to buy houses,” Stendahl says. “So renters are being pushed out of the immediate Seattle neighborhoods toward the suburbs.”

2. Look in affordable pockets in North Seattle: Pinehurst & Bitter Lake

For people who desire less expensive and roomier digs, two of the best outlying neighborhoods to consider are Pinehurst and Bitter Lake, Stendahl says.

There is a mix of townhouses, apartment buildings and single-family houses for rent in these two northern Seattle communities on either side of Interstate-5. The commute to downtown would be roughly 25 to 30 minutes, though rush hour traffic could double that time.

“These areas are great in that they are somewhat walkable and connected to downtown Seattle by public transportation,” she says. “You can find a one-bedroom apartment for between $800 and $1,200.”

Between the two areas, Pinehurst has a higher Walk Score of 72 out of 100, meaning most necessary errands are possible without a car. A bright 547-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Pinehurst — with in-unit laundry and close proximity to shopping and grocery stores — recently listed for $1,195 a month.

Bitter Lake scored a still-decent 68 for walkability and is easy to get around on a bike, according to Walk Score.

3. To find savings in Southeast Seattle, head to Suburban Auburn

The suburb of Auburn, southeast of Seattle, is an attractive option for renters who have a car and prefer greener vistas, quieter streets and a larger living space for their money.

“An average one-bedroom is $1,100,” says Stendahl. In light traffic, the commute to downtown Seattle is under an hour.

Auburn has a residential feel and well-regarded public schools. While there are fewer restaurants and retail shops in the area, the newer apartment building communities may offer life-enhancing modern amenities. A 720-square-foot one-bedroom in a large complex, recently priced at $1,167 a month, was advertised with Wi-Fi, package service, a pool, basketball court and gym.

4. Prefer more urban-living? Apartment-hunt in the gritty International District

The International District is “the last affordable neighborhood of downtown Seattle and has a really fun nightlife,” Stendahl says. Extremely convenient to train and bus lines, as well as CenturyLink Field, the Chinatown-International District has a bustling atmosphere and a wide range of distinctive eateries and bars.

One-bedroom units in the neighborhood’s large, pet-friendly Metropolitan Park Apartments complex start at $1,550 and offer access to a rooftop deck, fitness center and sauna.

5. Shop prepared to lease

Whichever neighborhood suits your style best, be prepared when viewing prospective apartments in the overheated Seattle market. Bring your key documents — like pay stubs, account statements and letters of recommendation — so that if you do stumble across a nice affordable rental, you’ve got what you need to apply or sign the lease.

“Be ready to hand over a check or a wad of cash,” before someone else does," says Stendahl. Make sure your roommate or significant other has his or her documents ready too. That way, there won’t be any obstacles to securing your dream apartment.

We can't curb burgeoning rents in big cities, but we can help you save on coverage for your stuff. You can quickly compare renters insurance quotes here.