Always start with the good news:  as of May 10, 2021, Seattle had an ‘at least one dose’ vaccination rate of 69.7% and a fully vaccinated rate of 49.9%, among the highest in the country.  At just over 6%, unemployment numbers are in steep decline from pandemic highs. Bellwether employers Microsoft and Amazon had very positive first-quarter results and, all in, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue market is nearly fully re-open for business.

The brief dip in rental prices appears to have come to an end however, and the real estate/home sale market in Seattle continues to boom.  Are you relocating to Seattle?  If your business is planning to move key talent here, it’s best to come prepared with knowledge of this fast-paced rental market. And the first thing to note is that rental information is not consolidated:  there are multiple sources to be reviewed, verified, and fact-checked. Some landlords rent off-market by word of mouth only (which is why being local with an ear to the ground is so critical) and there is no law requiring rentals to be publicly listed, shared, or documented in any one location like an MLS listing. On top of that, there are two distinct sets of rental rules to play by, depending on whether you are apartment hunting in the City of Seattle or anywhere else in the area. In short, any information a casual reader sees in social media or on news sites is only pulling from a limited pool of information and is probably only a small part of the big picture.

Are rental markets active in Seattle? The answer is yes! Many people moved out from the city center during the pandemic, so a limited supply of single-family homes has become a scarcity, for renters and buyers.  Large managed apartment buildings and complexes are filling up rapidly and the tenant concessions from a few months ago are gone.  We’re nearly back to the go-go times of 2019.  Owners can be challenging to reach, appointments are hard to get and canceled without notice because properties come on and off the market so quickly.

How Consultants and Agents Help Renters Meet the Challenge

As local experts in Seattle, Dwellworks destination consultants and Station Cities brokers are seeing the shift in the rental market and the challenges inbound transferring employees are facing, whether on a US to US move or on an international assignment.  Upon initiation for service, we share a quick “state of the market” update with these newcomers, along with some reminders and tips on how to best navigate an unfamiliar and fast-moving market, with a focus on achieving a positive outcome and finding a rental housing solution.

The Seattle area is often more expensive and competitive than the origin markets or departure locations of many transferring employees.  The upside? Washington State has no state income tax, utilities may be less expensive than where they are coming from, and rent should be approximately 30% of the tenant’s gross monthly income, which helps set a realistic budget.  Transferring employees may receive a cost-of-living adjustment in their salary and/or be accepting a move with a promotion or new pay grade, and those economics factors into the house search and best-matched options.

State of the Market

Large Managed Properties

Are you looking to be located near the city core? The large managed buildings offer proximity to the city center where people can work and play. With employers bringing their teams back to the office in late summer and early fall and inbound moves on the rise, these properties are filling up quickly over a relatively short time period. Decreased vacancies mean higher rental rates and few to no building concessions. With a high volume of new ‘ move-ins, the cycle of new leases will take longer to expire, so a short supply will cause a highly competitive market for the immediate future.

Top 8 tips we have for Employees/Renters interested in Large Managed Properties:

  1. Consider alternate neighborhoods
  2. Understand utility costs, water, sewer, trash, electricity, cable, internet and how these impact the desired rental amount (some costs are higher in the local Seattle market and some lower)
  3. Assess highest priorities and focus on those (schools, budget, commute time, etc.)
  4. Consider transit options – commuting in a green city like Seattle can be an attractive alternative
  5. Large buildings have lower upfront move-in costs and are often more pet-friendly, but smaller buildings may have more flexible, owner/operator landlords.
  6. Complete a ‘pet/ideal tenant’ resume…. a few facts about your history as a renter and a pet owner may get more serious attention and action from the landlord
  7. Focus on ‘lease up’ properties – new to the market and eager to rent to capacity with much higher initial vacancies
  8. Take advantage of virtual tours and immediately available appointments – the faster you act, the more likely you’ll rent

Single Family Homes/Townhomes:

Are you looking for a single-family home in Seattle? Vacancies in these properties are hard to come by, in Seattle, King County, and the Eastside. Rental properties generally come available when the current renters decide to purchase or relocate elsewhere. Some of these homes are coming off the market as rentals and are being put up for sale, further decreasing the rental inventory. The pressure is on from both newcomers and current residents looking to upsize to obtain the best properties in the Seattle area.  Even with ‘return to office’ policies, most employers will allow some at-home flexibility and workers are planning ahead to have optimal ‘work from home’ environments.

Top 9 tips we have for Employees/Renters Interested in Single Family Homes/Townhomes:

  1. Discuss other neighborhoods ​and/or price ranges
  2. Consider apartment complexes as alternatives and backup options, if the right home does not become available
  3. Assess highest priorities and focus on those (schools, budget, commute time, etc.)
  4. Shorten timeline for the property search – look when you are ready to rent, inventory turns over quickly
  5. Be aware that pets, regrettably, may limit options.
  6. Complete a ‘pet/ideal tenant’ resume…. a few facts about your history as a renter and a pet owner may get more serious attention and action from the landlord
  7. Prepare for additional out-of-pocket expenses: first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit, and various non-refundable fees may all apply. (We provide cost estimates so employees can plan their cash needs accordingly)
  8. Know your companies’ policy regarding support for advances to cover the cost of move-in expenses such as deposits/first month’s rent
  9. Monthly costs for potential maintenance and utilities are also higher in homes and tenants should factor these costs into their monthly housing expenses

Where a Local Expert Can Help

Dwellworks has 40+ active Consultants and agents on the ground in the Puget Sound region.  That coverage and our ‘demand’ leverage are attractive to landlords and in turn we cultivate property management/landlord relationships to nurture advance notice on upcoming vacancies.  Here are some specific ways our local agents/consultants can help in a fast-moving market:

  • Tour homes as soon as they hit the market and update the customer, so the transferring employee can apply early
  • Request landlord video tours or create videos to share with prospective renters
  • Prepare the renter to submit an application that gets the landlord’s attention and positions the customer positively as an ideal tenant choice
  • Think from a solution and service perspective first: be proactive in our communications, respond quickly, provide detailed information so renters can make filtering decisions in advance of property tours
  • Provide detailed Destination information – from the ‘must see’ to the ‘offbeat’, our relocation portal, myDwellworks Destination, provides tools and information for every step of the rental home search and settling-in process.
  • Build confidence through our expertise, but also ask for feedback: the more we know, the more actions and options we can deliver

A Special Note to Employers

With talent wars heating up, employees may ask for more benefits or support. While our job is to deliver the best possible outcome in the policy framework we’re authorized to manage, employers should also expect a lot of employees to request exceptions, based on market conditions.

Rent or buy? As rents climb, renters may decide they want to become homebuyers instead, and look for policy support. The Dwellworks team can provide unbiased facts and data to help policymakers, program managers and individual employees with that choice.

Got temporary living? With tight inventory, employees may need to extend their short-term stays.  Our goal is to quickly enable employees to move from temporary housing to more permanent rental housing for greater peace of mind and lower overall costs, but the available rental inventory does not always align with this goal.  Something for corporate employers to consider when looking at this employment market.

Let’s close on the upbeat note we started with.  Business is booming in the Seattle area.  The Puget Sound region covers over 1000 square miles and we have found housing solutions for thousands of employees moving to this market in the past 10 years.  Local makes a difference and we’re here to make Seattle happen for newcomers.  Let us know how we can help.

By Shelly Bean