How To Find Cheap Rentals Around Seattle

A few weeks ago I spoke with Ross Reynolds on KUOW about finding cheap rentals in the Seattle area. You can listen to the 17-minute segment on their site.

Here are a few of the tips I shared for finding a cheap rental in the Seattle area, and some relevant links to previous posts on the topic:

  • Avoid the overly “trendy” areas (e.g. Ballard, Capitol Hill, etc.) if low price is a priority.
  • Search on off-beat rental sites, including various local property management sites.
  • Literally drive around your target neighborhood with an eye out for “For Rent” signs.
  • Sign up for an RSS feed of your Craigslist rental search to get alerted immediately when a new rental listing hits the market.
  • If your job is near a bus line or other reliable transit option, open up your search to further-out areas with direct transit to your job.

Rents have risen quite a bit recently, but in general I expect the rental market to ease up over the next year or two as all of the apartments currently in the pipeline come online, flooding the market with supply.

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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. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    Erik says:

    I found this really nice rental in Kirkland on craigslist….

    Just kidding… this is my place. My neighbors condo went up for rent for the same price and it is in much worse shape. I thought if they can get that much for their condo, why can’t I?

  2. 2
    Blake says:

    Might be an oversupply of rentals soon!?
    This looks at Scottsdale, but is probably true for many cities…

  3. 3
    Erik says:

    RE: Blake @ 2
    An oversupply will drive down rent prices, which will drive down house prices. Right?

  4. 4
    David Losh says:

    RE: Blake @ 2

    Because on a national average hedge funds only claim a 6% return on investment in rentals. That includes the sales price higher than the purchase price.

    There will be a time when they unload the properties into the listing inventory, but I think, like with selling mortgage backed securities, most of these guys have already made returns better than the average bear.

  5. 5

    For those of you interested, there’s a heated discussion on Lifehacker today about real estate:

  6. 6
    Ray Pepper says:

    RE: ZipStyle Seattle @ 5 – GOOD CATCH! I’ve preached this to Tim for years now. When you decide to buy real estate its ALWAYS an investment. I don’t care if your intention is to NEVER sell…Its ALWAYS an investment……!!!!!!!

  7. 7
    David Losh says:

    RE: Ray Pepper @ 6

    That was in the past. Today if you are buying a housing unit you are simply buying a life style.

    You should look at the link Blake provided at comment 2.

  8. 8
    Ray pepper says:

    Huh??? I don’t care what lifestyle your talking about. When u plop your Money down and subject yourself to taxes, insurance, upkeep, while knowing it will cost u 10percent to dump it in this state I’m here to tell u…’s an investment.

  9. 9
    David Losh says:

    RE: Ray pepper @ 8

    An investment is the hope of making a profit.

    You just outlined some of the reasons why housing units are floundering in the investment arena.

    You are confusing investment with speculation:

  10. 10
    Erik says:

    RE: David Losh @ 9
    The place I posted above, I got for $92700. I think it is considered an investment if the criteria is that I could sell it for a profit after the 10 percent to dump it. I could also theoretically rent it out and make a large positive cash flow. I’m not sure something could be purchased as an investment at this exact time in King County. From what I’ve heard, there are still deals in Pierce County to be had.

    Your definition of investment is “An asset or item that is purchased with the hope that it will generate income or appreciate in the future.”

    The asset can generate an income of $960/mo after all fees and a 30yr mortgage, therefore it is an investment. I think many bubble readers were able to get a good investment including Tim if they bought at the right time. The time to get a great deal may have passed, but those that were able to buy at the bottom purchased an investment.

  11. 11
    ricklind says:

    RE: Erik @ 1
    Eric, That’s a nice place!

    Fel Temp Reparatio

  12. 12
    Erik says:

    RE: ricklind @ 11
    Thank you sir. I’m not rich like a lot of people on here, but it’s good for what I can afford. I used rustoleum transformation kit for the cupboards. Cost maybe $300 with everything including hardware. Made a huge difference. It’s been on there a year and no problems yet. People think it’s cherry, but it’s particle board painted and glazed to look like cherry. Hard to tell the difference. Highly recommend it, but it takes a lot of time/labor. You could also hire a painter to do it.

    I got the tile at Seattle Art Tile. Fireplace tile cost me $850 and the backsplash in the kitchen was about $600. I hate cheap looking backsplashes from home depot, so I was willing to spend a little more on the tile backplash. It really ties in the fireplace nicely.

  13. 13
    Mike says:

    References to all the new rental inventory somehow dramatically easing the rent increases drive me nuts. We just left a 4br rents in Phinney Ridge, landlord is going to increase the rent 20%. He may not get all of it but given the crazy lack of 3-4br SFR rentals in the area he probably will walk away with a decent increase. That is after raising it over 10% on us over the last 3 years. Other than taking away some roommate type situations where folks might be lured to live on their own if 1br unit rents fall far enough, it’s unclear how the thousands of 1-2br condos in Ballard are going to help with the lack of family housing. If you need to park your kids somewhere your options are either (1) downsize and pay less for less, (2) suck up the rent increase, (3) move farther out and spend time commuting instead of spending money on rent or (4) buy and try to defensively invest to lock in your payments at the risk of locking up your cash. At the end of the day, those Ballard condos really don’t improve your situation all that much.

  14. 14
    Peter Witting says:

    RE: Erik @ 1
    thumb-up for making me laugh, Erik.

  15. 15
    Erik says:

    RE: Mike @ 13
    Those areas are some of the most expensive areas to live. If you want to live in those areas, you have to pay the price. I don’t live in those areas because I cannot afford to, so I don’t really feel that bad for your situation.

    I live on the Eastside cause it’s way cheaper than downtown Seattle. I-90 bridge is still free. Kenmore still seems really inexpensive.

  16. 16
    Ray pepper says:

    Hey I’m that nut ball !!! 500 is a great plan but to be quite honest in this market the 200 plan we offer is what I recommend. Also Chris Nye, not the science guy, has sold more residential homes with his MLS for owners company then nearly all independent brokerages. That while only charging 500 to list. I think it’s 600 now.

  17. 17
    Tim McB says:

    RE: Mike @ 13

    Excellent points Mike. There are RE two markets out there; for those with kids and those without. What wil be interesting is when those newly hired Amazon employees (and others) start to procreate. Suddenly SLU and Belltown might not look as attractive not only because its downtown but because of lack of suitable housing (i.e. 3+ bedroom houses), but North Seattle and perhaps to a lesser extent South Seattle will. I periodically look on Craiglist for homes renting in our NE Seattle area (for comps) and this last time I wasn’t able to find even a single comp nearby. Single Family housing rentals looks pretty scarce right now.

  18. 18
    corndogs says:

    RE: David Losh @ 9 – “An investment is the hope of making a profit.”

    Losh, when you point to definitions of words on the internet, there is no guarantee that the guy who wrote it has a brain that functions any better than yours, so there’s really no point to it

    Here’s a lesson for you. ALL investments are to be judged relative the next best alternative. If it is going to cost you a net loss of $100,000 to rent a house over 10 years, but you can buy the house and sell it with a net loss of only $50,000 over the same time period then it was a good investment. No profit necessary. Another simpler example would be investing in a solar panel. There is no profit to be made, you only intend to reduce your losses to the power company, it may turn out to be a good investment.

    Losh, you seem to stumble the most when it comes to understanding wealth creation and investing, maybe you oughta stay in the car for a while and try to learn something.

  19. 19
    David Losh says:

    RE: corndogs @ 18

    How would you compare solar panels to buying a housing unit?

    Oh it took me a minute to see you are comparing having a mortgage as compared to paying rent.

    Why didn’t you just say so?

    You Loshenese lessons must be coming along well, because you make less, and less sense as time goes on.

  20. 20
    corndogs says:

    RE: David Losh @ 19 – “You Loshenese lessons must be coming along well, because you make less, and less sense as time goes on”

    My post, as always, is crystal clear. I refuse to translate it into Loshenese, you’re in America man, learn the language! I actually understand you better when you’re loopy from breathing too much toilet cleaner and you start calling me man, pretending that you’re a Chicano.

  21. 21
    Mike says:

    Erik, I know it is great that my family can afford to suck it up and pay to live close in. We just bought to try and lock in our costs at basically what our rent was, since another 10% of rent increases and staying would get harder to justify. But there are going to be a lot of families that are pushed out of the city because our current form of development doesn’t fit their needs.

    I think it is important to remember that supply and demand can’t be evaluated just on raw number of “units”, but has to account for where those units are and whether those units are the right long-term mix. Lots of articles lately claiming that all these new units are going to solve the issue of rising rents and, while the might show up in the big buildings D&S tracks, I don’t expect it to do much to help lower rents in the SFR market in the in-city hoods. And my guess, based on the highly dubious grounds of personal experience, is that SFR rental rates are a much better indicator of SFR sale prices than some abstract rental rate that includes a bunch of small apartments.

  22. 22
    David Losh says:

    RE: Mike @ 21RE: Mike @ 13RE: corndogs @ 20

    Sorry corndogs, but Mike here actually has a good point, and you have none.

    Mike you are right that those with families are stuck in this game of Real Estate, and pay for the privilege of having a life style that includes kids, schools, church, and family.

    My wife, and I looked at rentals to cut our housing cost, and it made more sense to have our mortgage.

    You are exactly the demographic I was referring to. You are buying a life style choice that may turn out to be an asset, or even investment.

    I agree with you 100%, and there is no getting around what you are saying. You represent the best buyer pool, and you have hard decisions to make.

  23. 23
    Macro Investor says:

    By Erik @ 1:

    I found this really nice rental in Kirkland on craigslist….

    Just kidding… this is my place. My neighbors condo went up for rent for the same price and it is in much worse shape. I thought if they can get that much for their condo, why can’t I?

    Seems like a price you’d see in downtown Manhattan. If you can get that much, more power to you. I would expect most suburban rentals to go for about $1 per square foot… about half of your asking price.

  24. 24
    Macro Investor says:

    By Tim McB @ 17:

    RE: Mike @ 13
    Excellent points Mike. There are RE two markets out there; for those with kids and those without.

    The end result of this can be seen in San Francisco. There are very few kids in the city. It’s much too expensive. And where do they play? In their postage stamp yard next to a busy street, or the few parks that are a drive away. Wealthy singles and childless couples — city; families with kids — suburbs.

  25. 25
    David B. says:

    RE: Macro Investor @ 24 – “And where do they play? In their postage stamp yard next to a busy street, or the few parks that are a drive away.”

    Before SF got too expensive for families of normal means, generations of children were successfully raised in those supposedly child-hostile neighborhoods (most of which are not so child-hostile as you imagine; nearly every place in SF is a fairly easy walk — not a drive — to the nearest park).

  26. 26
    Tim McB says:

    RE: Macro Investor @ 24

    What’s interesting is that not what your currently seeing right now in Seattle proper though. Many families I know are fighting/striving to move into the city. Granted my perspective is biased as we’re a family living in-city and so are many of our friends and family. I find this reversal completely strange however, because when I was very young my parents lived in West Seattle and they moved us out of the city as fast as they could afford to, due to the school uncertainty (i.e. busing) that came out in the late 70’s-early 80’s. By some estimates Seattle lost about 30% of its school age children (some say more) during that time period. For the most part families with means didn’t stay in the city. Many moved to Renton or Lynnwood, or if they could afford it Bellevue. Since school policies have changed (thank you US Supreme Court) there’s much more certainty to school placement in Seattle and because of it now Seattle is more of a family destination again. That couple with the interest in this generation (X and Y) of living a more urban lifestyle coupled with the region’s inablilty to keep up with transporation infastructure and there you go. I do agree with you though that there’s a good chance long term expensive costs could push middle class family households out of the city but currently there is still stock available in city that is somewhat affordable. Maybe not if you want to live on Queen Anne, Ballard or Phinney Ridge but elsewhere there is affordablilty (Crown Hill, my ‘hood Maple Leaf, Licton Springs to name a few) .
    The three things I see that could derail that though are a change back to a more opaque school assignment system, a switch in major companies leaving either out of the city or out of the state (ie Boeing leaving), and a macro economic black swan event that sustains for decades.
    Lastly, there are many many city parks in Seattle that as David B. pointed out about SF are walking and not driving distance that make Seattle a good parks destination (thank you Olmstead brothers.) If you don’t believe me go check out the Greenlake kiddy pool on a nice July day.

    PS Sorry for the long response.

  27. 27
    corndogs says:

    RE: David Losh @ 22 – “You are exactly the demographic I was referring to. You are buying a life style choice that may turn out to be an asset, or even investment.”

    Noooooo.. he’s buying a house which IS an asset, presumably with a mortgage which is a liability. The purchase of the asset IS an investment. Could turn out bad… but in the long term, compared to his next best alternative which would to be renting in an escalating rent environment, he’ll probably do OK. You’re parroting ‘The Tim’ who said personal housing is NOT an investment. ‘The Tim’ quit saying that because he has the ability to learn.

  28. 28
    Raisinpaw says:

    RE: Tim McB @ 26 – This is interesting. While we were looking for a house last fall Licton Springs, Maple Leaf, Crown Hill did seem to have at least some affordable homes left. After renting in Ballard for 10 years and in other close-in neighborhoods for 10 years prior to that, my family was finally able to swing a home purchase in Licton Springs last Oct. While we miss Ballard, buying a home there just wasn’t in the cards ($$$) for us. We have warmed up to our new neighborhood in Licton Springs. It’s an easy walk down to Greenlake and the wading pool there. There is a great park and playground within blocks. (The neighborhood sorely needs a decent coffee shop though.) The main reason we wanted to purchase a home in Seattle was to have the piece of mind knowing that we had our own place to stay in Seattle, without worrying about rent increases or what new plans the landlord might have for the property. Shortly after we closed on our house, the landlord sold the property to a company that is building townhomes. We feel as if we got out by the skin of our teeth.

  29. 29
    KKyle says:

    Hi All,

    Interesting conversation about how new units affect afford-ability. For some reason, I often have to mention the concept of supply and demand to economically minded people when it comes to housing. Just because new units are expensive doesn’t mean they don’t affect the afford-ability of the other units on the market. You all understand how that works.

    A couple of observations:
    1. San Francisco has artificially inflated their market by restricting supply. This has been going on for decades, so its hard to see anything but the net effect. Prices there are a multiple of prices here (x 2.5/Sq Foot?). They fought against change and density and largely won at the expense of housing afford-ability. I hate to point to Houston as an example of anything but they did the opposite (zero based/do what you want zoning) and have some of the most affordable housing in the country despite their favorable economic changes. I don’t suggest we do that here, but its worth thinking about before simply deriding any added density (which seems to be the Seattle default attitude.)

    2. There is a need for larger units in Seattle and the trend is for more families to stay here (there is an expected need for schools in the downtown core within the next 10 years.) One of the main things that is holding back family friendly units (#BR/Sq Feet) is parking requirements. Forcing new residents to pay for expensive underground parking in order to preserve “free” street parking for the people who already live in the neighborhood forces them to pay for the $ equivalent of 300 sq feet of living space per parking space. That living space could be in the apartment instead.

  30. 30
    whatsmyname says:

    RE: KKyle @ 29 – You found free parking downtown? That is awesome. Where is it?

  31. 31
    Lo Ball Jones says:

    I’ve been seeing a few apartments appearing in listings, in older buildings, up on Capitol Hill for under $1000 a month. And these are classic one bedrooms, not “apodments”.

  32. 32
    KKyle says:

    RE: whatsmyname @ 30

    Haha… no. I was not referring specifically to downtown — but more to Ballard, West Seattle, Cap Hill… really any other neighborhood in Seattle.

    Attend any design review meeting of any new residential building and you will see what I mean. Most of the people who attend from the neighborhood want the builders to build more parking to “preserve” parking in the neighborhood. What this amounts to is: I want to keep my “free” parking… so I want to force the new people to pay for their own space. This is even more insane/inane when you consider how much private parking is available but simply not used.

  33. 33
    David B. says:

    RE: Lo Ball Jones @ 31 – Yeah, but what sort of shape are those buildings in? And I bet they’re also mostly the ones right along I-5, too.

  34. 34
    Ashley Gross says:

    RE: Mike @ 13 – Hi Mike – I’m working on a story about housing affordability in Seattle… I’d be interested in picking your brain about lack of affordable rental options for families. If you could send me an email at agross(at), I’d appreciate getting your thoughts. Thanks! – Ashley

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