Where to Search for Rentals in Seattle

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Seattle Bubble regular “perfectfire.” Thanks for taking the time to put together such a useful guide! Also be sure to check out this related post from February: How To: Use Craigslist & RSS to Find a Great Rental

My wife and I just signed a contract on a rental house after searching for about a month. It was stressful and difficult because the rental ad space is so fractured. There are smatterings of listings all over the place. Some listings are at several different places, some at just one. A lot of listings aren’t deleted when the house is of the market. The biggest source of listings has an awful, awful search experience. A lot of landlords want to hide the location of their house for some reason.

Anyway, I have a friend that is also looking for a rental house so I sent this email advice to them.

Craigslist:
Go to Apts/Housing for rent, type in “Bellevue” as your search criteria, put in you min and max monthly rent and select a minimum number of bedrooms and hit search. You’ll be presented with a list of recently listings. Scroll to the bottom of the page and there will be an orange icon that says “RSS”. Click on it and you’ll be given a view of those listings in an RSS feed reader. There should be an option to subscribe to the feed. Once you are subscribed you can check the feed every so often for new listings. I checked it 4 or 5 times a day because the good deals go fast. I hate craigslist so much. They have a field for whether the place allows cats or dogs, but they don’t even require listings to put in a location so you get tons of listings that are in Bellevue, Redmond, Renton. Which means it is in Renton (take the least desirable of the locations they list and that’s where it is).

Craigslist Housing Wanted:
Craigslist has a “housing wanted” section where you can put up an ad requesting a place to live. 19 times out of 20 responses will be for houses that aren’t even in the area you specified (“My house isn’t in the boundaries you might want to consider my house in Olympia.”) and 3 out of those 19 will be starving real estate agents trying to get you to buy an overpriced debt trap. However, I did get a response from someone that said they wanted to rent their house out but were afraid of renters not taking good care of it so they had it up for sale, but since we sounded so nice they would consider renting it to us. The house was way bigger and nicer than we could ever afford and I told them so, but it got me thinking. Equal housing laws prevent landlords from denying housing to people based on certain criteria. By not putting up an ad and only shopping the house around to certain people seem to be good tenants the landlord can have whatever biases they like possibly without violating any laws. One time we viewed a house just before 4 single guys viewed it and the owner said he would much rather rent it out to us, but he really has no choice due to the laws. So by putting up an ad you might be able to snag a nice house for a good price.

NWapartments.com:
This is this is the site that the Seattle PI and Seattle Times refer you to for rental listings. Put in your search criteria and hit GO. Above the search results there will be an RSS icon so you can subscribe to these search results too. This site has very low volume so I only checked it once a day.

HotPads.com:
Another rental search site. Do a search and subscribe to the RSS feed. I only checked this one once a day.

Oodle.com:
This site aggregates searches from several different sites including NWapartments and I think HotPads so you could just use Oodle and not check the two above, but I was paranoid that I wouldn’t see new listings as soon as they were posted so I still checked them. Again do a search and subscribe to the RSS feed. I checked this once a day.

Backpage.com:
The Bellevue Reporter refers you to this site. Search and subscribe to the RSS feed. It is very low volume and even includes some commercial property.

Windermere Property Management:
Their site just searches the MLS like any other real estate broker’s site, but their searches seem to find properties way before other sites even when other brokers are the ones that listed the property it will show up on Windermere first. Also they have this neat search here where you can draw a box on a map rather than just specify “Bellevue” (which comes up mostly with properties in Lake Hills and south of I-90) so your search results will more often than not be actually in the ward. Additionally, you create an account to save your search in and you can have them send you email whenever a new property matches your search criteria.

This is how we found the house we’re in now and we were the first to contact and view 4 or 5 houses this way. When you are viewing a listing there is a button for “Contact Information” however if Windermere isn’t the listing broker it will just give their office number which you can call and they’ll tell you who the listing agent is and what their number is. If you want to be really fast (since they aren’t the listing agent they don’t care much so they may not get back to you as soon as possible) you can look at the bottom of the listing and it will say “This listing appears courtesy of: Skyline Properties NW”. Then you can contact the brokerage directly and hopefully they will be more motivated to get in touch with you as soon as possible. The bonus of finding a house through the MLS is that it means they have a property manager who (hopefully) has a clue and so you probably won’t have to deal with the owner who is usually dumber than toast.

Protocol Property Management:
Some property management company that doesn’t use the MLS and has an awful static webpage of listings that they update daily. This is really low volume, but if it shows up here it probably isn’t showing up anywhere else. The way I found this (and another independent property management “company” that I subsequently lost) is I saw a listing on craigslist that linked to pictures or more info on their website. When I noticed their site was for a property management company in the area I bookmarked their listings and started checking it regularly. If you ever see a listing that is linked to a small company make sure to bookmark it because it’s likely that they usually don’t list their homes anywhere but their obscure unknown website so you’ll have first (and only) dibs on anything they list.

Coldwell Banker Bain Property Management:
They have an MLS search, but it’s not as good as Windermere’s but some times their listings have more visible information that Windermere’s. Most notably they show the “Cats and Dogs” field. You can search and then bookmark the results page and then check it once in a while, but it’s not going to have anything a Windermere search doesn’t find. They also have a “Featured Properties” section with some (usually expensive) listings that don’t seem to be listed on the MLS at all. I checked this once a day even though it never had anything worthwhile on it. I just checked right now and there’s 3 times as many properties on it in Bellevue as I have ever seen so it looks like the selection is getting better.

Drive around:
If you have a specific area you want to live in you might want to try driving around and noting “For Rent” signs. Not much selection but there are a few that don’t seem to advertised in any other way. Also tell your friends that you are looking and if they ever see anything they can tell you. We told people at our church and word spread around pretty quickly. We got 3 or 4 tips from friends that we wouldn’t have otherwise found.

Newspapers:
One of my friends suggested this. We only did it once because it requires buying something and the one time we did it, there was only one listing in it near our area. I think most ads in the newspaper are also on NWapartments. It’s possible though that some old folks don’t know of the internets and still think the paper is the way to advertise. If you find something in there maybe you have a good chance of being the only interested party.

  

About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

18 comments:

  1. 1
    masaba says:

    I had a situation about a year ago that made me wonder about equal housing laws.

    When my wife and I were dating, we looked at a home in Phinney that we wanted to rent. When we told the owner that we wanted to rent it, she said, “Well, we have several other people that are going to look at it today and we will get back with you.” I asked her if we were the first to view the house because I was pretty sure that the law would back me up in that if someone is offering a rental for X and I offer X to rent it, then they must rent it to me if my background check looks clean. This woman wanted to “show” the rental to a bunch of people, then select the tenant that she thought would “work the best.”

    It hacked me off for a few days, but I figured it wasn’t worth my time to really do anything about it. She rented it to someone else, and I definitely didn’t sweat it since we found a similar place for a little cheaper within a few days.

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  2. 2
    laxtosnoco says:

    Great advice all-around. The last two times I’ve looked for rentals I started with craigslist and big property management company searches, but eventually found places through a for-rent sign while driving to tour other properties. For whatever reason, the non-advertised places always seem to be cheaper and nicer.

    If you’re searching for a place and not using RSS feeds you should re-evaluate; it makes identifying new properties much easier and the good places tend to go fast.

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  3. 3

    GREAT ADVICE TIM

    I heard from a professional tennant a good idea that helps the landlord too: Offer them a verbal [or written] stability lease.

    Landlords clearly don’t want bad tennants and higher rent rarely pays for damages and empty units; so make a deal with ‘em….don’t raise my rent and you get the stable “Tim” and his family for years, that keep the place from ruin and pay their rent on time.

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  4. 4
  5. 5
    Joel says:

    Best thing about the new place that we found is the property manager. An actual real-life, honest-to-goodness property manager. Someone who cares about the house and not just a monthly rent check. Someone that knows land-lord tenant laws, or at least knows that they exist and where to look them up.

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  6. 6
    Joel says:

    Aboda and Winderemere Northwest properties are already on the MLS. I bet Jim Kennedy’s and MacPherson’s listings are also on the MLS. I think Brink and T-Square have all of their listings on HotPads. The other two might have listings that aren’t found anywhere else. Good finds!

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  7. 7
    Bella says:

    Looking for “For Rent” signs is definitely the way to go – people who put up signs generally do so before doing Craigslist, if they do anything else at all, thus there is less competition.
    Another way to win – get your credit report before you even go to look. Make copies of it for the landlord, that you can hand to them when you meet, should you decide you really want to live there. That way they have a good idea of whether or not you are qualified, and it shows that you are organized, prepared and responsible, and therefore, a good choice.
    Additionally, if you can, offer to give them a deposit on the spot. Being able to hand them money right then and there, again, shows that you are responsible and it saves them worrying about whether or not their new tenant will need a lot of time to scrape up all the $$ you need to move in. At least that gives them something as a starter fund.

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  8. 8
    redmondjp says:

    Good advice, Bella, although I disagree with you on paying a deposit on the spot unless you are SURE that the individuals you are handing the cash over to really are the legal rentees.

    There are plenty of rental scams out there where somebody else pretends to be the owner (of an empty house, say a foreclosure), places an ad on CL, collects a bunch of deposits from potential renters, and then disappears.

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  9. 9
    Bella says:

    Good point, @8. I guess the only time I had the opportunity to do that and was prepared to, the landlady lived next door, so I was pretty sure that when they pulled out the keys, locked up the rental and then pulled ‘em out again to unlock their place, they were probably really who they said they were.

    Of course, don’t pay in cash – pay with a check you can cancel – and always get a receipt!

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  10. 10
    robroy says:

    We answered an ad for a house for rent just north of Factoria mall back in 2000. When we got within a block of the house we saw a sign for another house for rent. We viewed the one we had come to look for and then viewed the other.

    We ended up renting the one the sign pointed to. We are big fans of this, especially since the signs are all over the place now. No doubt about it, a lot of people are trying to rent their houses.

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  11. 11
    Jimbo says:

    Congrats on the new diggs and thanks for the info!

    Just curious if you wouldn’t mind sharing what your monthly rent is vs. what your ownership costs would have been had you bought. Also, what part of Bellevue?

    TIA

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  12. 12
    John says:

    Many landlords don’t follow the equal housing laws. It is their properties after all. Who wants to rent to someone who looks like a slob or smells like crap? Unless the place is already a dump…

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  13. 13
    Joel says:

    The place we found is in College Hill. As for comparing to buying, that’s kind of hard. Zillow put the value of the house at around $540k, but I think that’s way too high. Here’s a house in the same neighborhood. Almost the same size house and lot and built the same year. Overall the house and yard look a little nicer, but it is backed up to 140th which is a busy street. I think it would be fair to say their values are roughly the same.

    At $510k, 3% down 6.25% FHA loan would be $2045/month for principal and interest. Assume tax benefit is offset by property taxes. Maintenance at 1% of purchase price or $425/month. $55 per month more than renter’s insurance for homeowner’s insurance. It comes out to $3525/month. That’s more than double our rent of $1600/month. Even if the place is overpriced by $60k and I overestimated maintenance by a lot I’d still have to pay over a $1300/month premium to buy.

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  14. 14
    shawn says:

    I got a nice condo rental from craigslist, advice from Tim. But CL is hard to sort, so get a CL reader, that helped me a lot. With this condo I get more space for less cash.

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  15. 15
    Advice from a landlord says:

    The Tim: Great advice. I only advertise on craigslist and signs. One rental we had went on signs alone. Signs are a little frustrating, though, because the callers are often dead-end (neighbors, curious lookie-loos). I’m starting to post the craigslist ad with the sign to screen out the most common questions so only serious inquirers will call. Very strong interest still…100+ callers for a very charming Ballard duplex 2 bed/1bath at a reasonable rent.

    Masaba @ 1: The law doesn’t specify that landlords have to take applicants first come, first served. A landlord can legitimately sort through applications to see who presented the best overall package in terms of employment, rental and credit history before making any offers to any of them. They just can’t discriminate based on protected classes.

    softwareengineer @ 3: Good advice. We like long term tenants too. We keep rent low and turnover down.

    Bella @ 7: From the landlord’s perspective, seeing a person’s credit report when they walk in the door screams “desperate” and makes me wonder if there’s something shaky the applicant is trying to smooth over, like “I don’t have a job yet.”

    The best possible applicant will have verifiable income, good employment history, happy landlords that verify good rental history, great credit, and no criminal background. I can overlook credit if the employment and rental history are strong, because it speaks to me loudly if someone shows me they can afford the place, keep a job, pay their rent on time, and take care of the place…that tells me what our relationship will be like with this tenant.

    Make sure you and your roommates have already discussed what kind of housing you are looking for and are in agreement. I have had too many groups of 3 or 4 roommates look at a house and waffle back and forth over whether they want it or not and, in the end, these people usually back out of any application or screening process. I’d rather deal with people who know what they want.

    You should be prepared to completely fill out an application and pay the credit report fee on the spot. You’d be surprised at how many people treat it just like dating and say they’ll call you when they take a blank application and walk out, but if they don’t leave money and a completed application I never hear from them again. I absolutely do not begin processing an application if the fee has not been paid. No way. Step 1 of the process is checking credit, and I get charged for every credit report I ring up.

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  16. 16
    Ben W. says:

    Definitely check out http://housingmaps.com next time. It’s the craigslist listings displayed on a google map. Really great stuff, I’ve used it for my last 3 moves.

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  17. 17

    […] another new site to add to your list of where to search for rentals in Seattle: Zillow. Zillow announced yesterday that they have added rental listings to their […]

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  18. 18
    Megan says:

    I’m sure everyone has heard this already, but just for more anecdotal evidence- there really are lots of scams on Craig’s List so just be careful. I emailed about a property today that seemed too good to be true, and it was. The landlords were “missionaries in Africa” and the rent was so low (about half of expected) because they “just wanted to find someone to treat the house as if it were their own and weren’t looking to make money”. Not shockingly, they thought I sounded like a good renter and only needed me to western union them $600 security deposit and they would mail me the keys and rental agreement. Thankfully my IQ ranks above dirt.

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