Apartment Search in Seattle

As soon as Kyle began interviewing for his current job, we started looking for a place to live in Seattle. From talking with friends who had recently moved there, we repeatedly heard the Seattle housing market be referred to as “hot” and “tight.” We knew to expect much less space and higher rents than we had experienced in Durham, but we did not anticipate that it would operate on a totally different schedule and set of rules.


I used craigslist and PadMapper primarily for my remote housing search. Kyle’s job is very close to three residential neighborhoods, so we knew we would have nearby options. Because of the volume of housing we saw available, we narrowed our search to within 1.5 miles of Kyle’s job.


In Durham, giving 30 or 60 days move-out notice is typical. Even on our recent month-to-month lease, we had to give 60 days notice. It is also typical to apply for rentals several weeks or up to a couple months in advance of the lease start date.


When I was searching for rentals in Seattle in early June, I noticed that virtually everything was listed as being “available now” or available starting the prior week. I had expected that a hot/tight housing market would translate into rentals being listed and leases signed even farther in advance than a month or two so there was minimal turnover time. Instead, it seemed that the leasing companies were letting properties sit empty for days or weeks until a renter was approved who could move in immediately. I wondered if this was a short-term phenomenon that would change by the time we arrived in late July, but after talking with our local friends we confirmed that the housing market always operates on this immediate basis.


With a bit of trepidation, we decided to pack up our things in a pod and take a cross-country trip without yet knowing where we would be living in Seattle. We planned to arrive in Seattle about a week before Kyle started work, and we hoped that would give us enough time to find, apply for, and move in to an apartment. Thankfully, in the meantime we were able to stay with our local friends.


We started our housing search on our first full day in the city. We found several places we wanted to see on craigslist (the volume of places listed in our search radius seemed to have dropped by about two thirds since our previous searches!) and made appointments with the leasing companies. We were considering larger apartments in older buildings in a residential neighborhood and tiny luxury apartments in a mixed-usage neighborhood.


We ended up only seeing three places before we applied to one (on day two)! The first place was very inexpensive but had a strong, unpleasant smell (dank and smoky, despite it being a non-smoking building?). The second place was high-priced with tons of amenities, but we were going to have to forgo a dining table and choose between having a couch and a desk. The place we ended up applying for was decently priced, had a large living area, and was in a killer location: 0.2 miles from Kyle’s job.


approximate floor plan of our new aparment

approximate floor plan of our new apartment


When we viewed what is now our apartment, we were not the only people checking it out – another couple was interested in it as well. We had heard horror stories about dozens of people racing one another to apply for rentals they spent merely minutes in. We decided within just a few minutes that we were highly interested in the apartment and got all the info about applying. We found out that there were a few applications already in process for the unit, but that we could skip to the front of the line by putting down a $500 deposit. We would lose the deposit if we backed out, but not if the application approval fell though. If we took the place, the $500 would go toward our security deposit. Kyle also overheard the other couple say that they were going to apply and put down the deposit.


We had one remaining appointment that afternoon for a property we were very interested in based on its listing. When we called to find out if they similarly would allow us to hold the place with earnest money, we found out that not only did they already have applications for the apartment but that they in fact had already scheduled a lease signing with the newly approved tenants. However, they were still showing the apartment because there was a chance the tenant could still fall through (!!). When we heard that, we decided to just go for the previous apartment – and the race was on!


The leasing office had asked for the deposit in the form of a money order or cashier’s check (also something we had not experienced in Durham) delivered to their property management office. As we use internet banks exclusively, a cashier’s check wasn’t an option, so we drove to the nearest post office to get a money order. We then high-tailed it back to where we were staying to complete the online application. Just after we submitted the application, we called the property management office to say we had applied and we were on the way over with the deposit to hold the place.


When we arrived, our deposit was accepted and we chatted with the agent about the expected timeline for approval and move-in. She told us that it was good that we had called, because the other couple had called just after about the place and she was able to tell them we were already on the way over with the holding deposit.


Obviously the application went through fine and we are happy to be in our new place. We felt a bit bad that we skipped to the front of the application line with money, because those other people wasted their application fees ($98 for two people). But they had the opportunity to put down the hold money as well, I guess! I’m pleased that we didn’t have a tough experience applying for the place in terms of lots of competition. I’m actually a bit happy there was some time pressure, because we are apt to take forever making decisions!


(One final note about money orders for those of you using internet banks: We learned that money orders from the post office go against your daily ATM limit, which for us is $1,000. We got the first deposit fine, but then had trouble getting the rest of the deposits and first month’s rent the morning before our lease signing. (If we had known, we could have spread out the post office money orders over several days.) We had to go to a point-of-sale retailer to get a money order that didn’t count as an ATM withdrawal. Once at that retailer, Kyle’s debit card was declined for the purchase, the same way it had been at the post office. We were wondering if the purchase was going against our limit after all. But then we tried my debit card (same account) and it worked! We are still not sure why one card worked while the other didn’t, but we didn’t ask too many questions as we were able to access our money!)


How far in advance does the rental market in your city operate? Have you ever raced another person to get housing? What obstacles have you overcome in the process of obtaining housing?


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15 Responses to "Apartment Search in Seattle"

  1. Finding an apartment in the city can be such a challenge! I have many friends in New York who describe racing around from place to place with cash on hand to pay the deposit if they find something decent. In Cambridge, it is a little more relaxed, but there still isn’t much time to waste. You have to make decisions quickly or a place will be gone, especially if it has a reasonable rent.

    1. Emily says:

      I know New York and Boston are among the craziest rental markets in the country. Seattle isn’t there yet but it’s inflating rapidly! I’m glad we didn’t have to carry actual cash to put down in the moment… At least we had a few hours to reconsider!

  2. Tara says:

    It was like that when we got an apartment in NYC, although we also had to pay 1 months rent broker’s fee, which really sucked (one broker was cash-only which really scared me, carrying around $1200 in cash).

    Anyways, I do recommend finding a brick and mortar bank in your area. My husband and I moved to the Philly area and we found that Citizens Bank (owned by RB Scotland) has a “free” bank account, so long as you either make two manual deposits or get direct deposit. This came in handy as we had to do a cashier’s check for our mortgage process.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m so glad we didn’t have to pay a broker fee as well. The other city we were considering moving to requires them. I mean, I get that a broker might be quite helpful, but I wouldn’t like being required to use one or the high fees.

      I would be QUITE scared to carry $1200 in cash as well! I think I would stash it in a bunch of different places on my person!

      We still have an old Bank of America account. If we knew in advance we needed a cashier’s check we could have transferred enough money to it to cover that (we only keep $100 in there now). We could do that in advance of our next rental search process in case this comes up again. We just were a bit blindsided that they wouldn’t accept a personal check! I hate Bank of America, though, so I don’t want to keep serious money in there all the time.

  3. When I was a college student, I had a hard time finding an apartment because I had to consider the accessibility and the apartment itself if it would be perfect, meeting all my needs. Back then, one problem encountered was that many apartment were available but what we got was the cheaper one considering the long-term purpose to save money. Imagine how many years or months I would stay there.

    1. Emily says:

      An inexpensive apartment in a perfect location doesn’t sound like a problem to me! I would stay there quite a while, too.

  4. Thank you for sharing your apartment search information. I feel that Seattle is the next go-to city!

    1. Emily says:

      Now that I’ve arrived, I either agree with you or think it’s jumped the shark already (or both). The population is expanding very fast, which is inflating housing prices. It’s already not as great a place to live as it used to be, apparently…. Sort of like Austin, maybe?

  5. Leah says:

    I grew up in Seattle and still have lots of friends there. Even the buying market is tight and pricey! I have friends in their 30s, with kids, who live with their parents to save up for down payments.

    re: a local bank, I highly recommend BECU. You no longer have to be a Boeing Employee to apply. It’s well known for amazing customer service and customer-friendly policies. Worth checking into so you can ditch BOA. Because, FYI, BOA is completely different in Washington state than anywhere else in the country. BOA bought out another bank (SeaFirst, I think?), and their accounts are on a different system still, even though that was something like 15 years ago.

    Good luck and enjoy the lovely city! It has so much to offer. I hope you’re vaguely near Phinney Ridge, as that’s a fun place for young people. Green Lake, the locks, the Burke-Gilman . . . all wonderful!

    1. Emily says:

      We don’t plan to buy here (although maybe we will re-evaluate in a year) but I can see how difficult it would be to both live comfortably in the present and save a down payment… Unless you are two Amazon employees, maybe. 😉

      I had that same problem with Bank of American in CA vs. the rest of the US. I definitely would prefer to close our account and open a new one than try to communicate across systems like I did for over a year.

      We’ve already spent a little time at Green Lake and the Locks and hope to spend more there and keep exploring!

  6. Fiby says:

    Haha I too had to get a money order (or maybe cashier’s check was also an option, but I don’t keep much money in my brick and mortar bank accounts) for the first month’s rent for my place (they did a soft pull on my credit and said I don’t need to make any security deposit, hurray!). First time I bought a money order. Thankfully they pointed me to a gas station/convenience store just down the street that sold them for a 99 cent fee.

  7. […] create emergencies, we live pretty lightly – we rent, own one car (that we don’t rely on for commuting), and have health, renters, and auto insurance. I don’t see any major argument there for a large […]

  8. […] when I’m not traveling.) Luckily for us, his workplace is adjacent to a residential area, and we secured an apartment just 0.2 miles away. Kyle walks all of three minutes to and from […]

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