Moving to Seattle
November 4, 2004 10:01 PM   Subscribe

My SO and I are moving to Seattle from Minneapolis sometime mid next summer. We’re currently visiting Seattle for the first time on a pre-rental house/apartment hunting trip. We’re just looking to get a "feel" for different neighborhoods and I am looking for suggestions to help us narrow the search down from all of Seattle to something more manageable [mi].

My SO has accepted a post-doc position at the VA hospital (south of Jefferson Park, just east of I5 on S Columbian Way). I’m going to be able to keep the same job that I’ve got now and just telecommute, so a relatively decent length commute (~30 minutes or less) is a priority. We’ve also got a large dog and 2 cats, so it would be nice to be in an a house/duplex type place where we’d have at least a postage stamp of a yard for our dog.

If you’re familiar with Minneapolis, we currently live in the Linden Hills area west of Lake Calhoun (South Minneapolis) and love the neighborhood. We’re hoping to find something with a similar feel (good neighbors, co-op within walking distance, low crime rate).

We’re going to be doing another trip in late spring/early summer to actually find a place. This trip is just to get a feel for what kind of areas we want to consider when we’re doing the actual looking.

Her post-doc advisor lives just north of the University, and has suggested that we look in the Fremont, Wallingford, and Ravenna areas. Do people agree that this is the best place to look, or are there other areas in Seattle that might work as well?
posted by freshgroundpepper to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not at all familiar with Minneapolis. What is Linden Hills like? Can you describe some of the features of the neighborhood that appeal to you?
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:23 PM on November 4, 2004

The greatest thing about this city is that you should be able to walk to all the places you want to go. (unless you are buying a house)

Fremont is getting a little too cheesy on the weekends- (cologne and fights) but it can still be pretty cool.

Ballard is my new love - live near Market street and west of 15th and you'll have fun... Ballard Ave has a lot of cool stuff on it too.

Capital Hill is nice if you live East of 12th Ave. Close to Broadway Ave. is getting kinda nasty. And the hill would be an easy commute to south seattle.

Enjoy! It's a nice city - and we hate bush here!
posted by mildred-pitt at 10:24 PM on November 4, 2004

Best answer: Fremont, Wallingford and Ravenna are all nice areas. Beware the area *just* north of the U, as it is student slums at their worst. (I'd avoid anything south of Ravenna blvd to the north, and anything from the U to I-5).

Another lovely area of Seattle is Greenlake. While the market can be kind of difficult to find rentals, and affordable, you can't imagine a nicer, more neighborly area, and if walking is a pastime, then Greenlake is a huge bonus (stay away from the Aurora side, however.. somewhat sketchier), and has a co-op nearby, as well as a Whole Foods pretty close, in Ravenna.

Actually, the Aurora advice pretty much follows for Fremont and Wallingford, too... Aurora is the definition of ugly, and you want to not be near it.

Fremont is the post-gentrification cool place to live. Still a lot of remnants of its bohemian past, but land values (and rent!) has gone up significantly in the past few years. If you're hippie-esque, Fremont is a definite possibility: Sunday market, giant VW-eating troll statue, bronze statue of lenin, it's got it all. It's also got PCC, which is the co-op of choice in Seattle. There's another one on the Aurora side of Greenlake.

Ravenna is a nice, mostly-residential area. If you want to walk to different places, Greenlake or Fremont or Wallingford would be better. Lots of single-family homes, but less rentals and duplexes. If you choose Ravenna, most everywhere is nice, but Ravenna blvd, 65th and 71st are the high-traffic streets, which you may not want to live on.

Wallingford is very nice, and has lots of character (Red Mill has the finest hamburgers on earth, and is worth the trip, even if you choose to live elsewhere in Seattle), again mostly-residential single family homes, but more variety, and lots more to do, especially Up Greenwood.

The area around the Zoo is a mixed-bag. (Some parts of it are called Phinney Ridge, while others are called Wallingford: all part of Seattle's mad obsession with naming every 6-block region something different). Again, avoid the areas closest to Aurora, but as you get to the Wallingford area, near the Zoo, it's quite nice.

Ballard is another place to consider. Considered pretty hip, but with all the good and bad that comes with that. Ballard is a pretty big area, so encompasses a lot of different kinds of stuff. As it's further from the highway, it'll add a little bit more to the commute.

I wouldn't suggest Cap Hill at all. Land values/rents are insane, and while you get the cool factor (Broadway, bars, hip stuff), it's not that nice of an area to live in. Crime is a concern more than the areas you've mentioned. But the commute would be easier.

Hope this helps.
posted by Eldritch at 10:35 PM on November 4, 2004 [1 favorite]

Those sound like good neighborhoods to look at. That whole area, north of the ship canal and bounded on the east and west by the lake and Sound, is a nice place to live. Prices vary a lot, but all of Seattle has high housing costs. Ravenna/Wedgewood will be more expensive, Fremont/Ballard a bit less, maybe, although they've become more expensive (Ballard used to be tres unfashionable, until the post-dot-com ex-hipsters noticed it was actually affordable and started moving there).

It's more difficult to go east/west in this city than north/south. If you want an easy commute, it's good to pay attention to the major north/south roads (I-5 and Aurora/99). (On the other hand, getting too close too I5 brings noise and traffic, and too close to Aurora brings seedy hotels, hookers, and used car dealerships.)

The exception to the north/south rule is probably West Seattle, which also might be an easier place to find a large yard for a reasonable price than other parts of the city. I know a couple of people who live there, including one whose main housing constraint is needing room for her giant dog. West Seattle is a little sort of island city off to itself.

You might also try looking towards the south, closer to the job. Georgetown or Beacon Hill or someplace like that. That area can have an interesting vibe --- as if it's been forgotten for fifty years, and gotten a little run down, but is still a friendly and vital neighborhood. You're less likely to find a co-op down there though.

The character of Seattle's neighborhoods can vary sharply from place to place. You can have a couple blocks of near-slum up next to a neighborhood where the cheapest houses sell for >$1M.
posted by hattifattener at 10:51 PM on November 4, 2004

Just another voice chiming in with advice to be careful of Capital Hill - as the gay district it's the sexy part of Seattle, no doubt, but around early 2001 it went through a pretty severe economic collapse (Broadway had 17 stores close in January alone), crime shot way up, I stopped feeling safe slumming around at 3am.

Up until a year ago my wife and I were living in Bellevue, which I highly, highly recommend as a way to get out of the rain - the commute across the lake really isn't that bad.

Currently stuck out in the suburbs around Boston. I would KILL to move back.
posted by Ryvar at 2:30 AM on November 5, 2004

an unsolicited aside: it might be good to put a dollar value on "high costs" ... for example, a $700 1-bd in sf is a screaming fucking deal, while it's a rip-off in sacramento, where i live now. if fgp is moving from minnesota, he might have a different idea of rents than you would expect.
posted by fishfucker at 3:07 AM on November 5, 2004

Best answer: I've lived in Fremont, Wallingford, Ballard, The U District and Madison Park. A useful thing to know about Seattle is that it has a North/South divide about where the ship canal is and most people who live in the North side don't know anything about the South side except for the downtown and Capital Hill area. If your SO has a job in the south part of the city [and I know right where the VA hospital is] your best bet for a short, non-headachey commute is to live in the South part of the city. The downside is that you're far from traditional thirty-something conveniences like movie theaters, bookstores, places to see concerts, supermarkets with giant organic sections, good wine stores, etc. I'd echo Ryvar that Capital Hill is a little overpriced and a little bombed out right now. However, there are some really nice sort of "upcoming" neighborhoods in the south end that have what you seem to need [though I know nothing about Linden Hills]. I've also loved living in Ballard [FAR from the VA] and Fremont [little closer, not very close really] but would have loved them less had I been commuting farther than downtown.

- Georgetown or Beacon Hill - both great choices as far as funky and interesting. not much in the way of co-ops but a lot of little ethnic places, especially in Beacon Hill. Georgetown is sort of a post-industrial hipster location with not as much residential space and squeezed next to Boeing. Fun and funky, a bit of a challenge to find the right spot. Beacon Hill has a real multicultural feel [large Ethiopian and Hmong populations among others] with semi-affordable housing [with yards!] and is closest to the VA
- Seward Park - on Lake Washington, quite far South in the city, sort of known as the more Jewish area of town if that's worth anything to you. GOOD CO-OP right there. It's a cute little hidden neighborhood. Hard to get to the rest of the city, not too far from the VA. Lots of nice places to ride bikes, some great parks.
- Madison Park - this is a snooty area of town that borders both the lake and the Arboretum but is spitting [biking] distance from the co-ops and stores of Capital Hill without being IN it. It's got a lot of incredibly expensive fancy houses, but the rental market, especially on the borders at like 24-28th streets is not bad, harder to buy straight in but not impossible. An interesting mixed-culture middle class neighborhood is between it and the sort of low income higher-crime areas of the Central District before you get to Capitol Hill. I LOVED living in this neighborhood except that it was hilly [hard for bikes] and tough to get out of by bus, easy by car. Not super near the VA but a hell of a lot closer than the Northern Neighborhoods
- Columbia City - affordable housing, south of Madison Park. Neat up and coming hipster-y neighborhood with some cool local art initiatives and one little downtown strip. Great library, still okay close to co-ops [none within walking distance, sadly, unless I forgot one]. Good restaurants and good bus service up north. VERY close to the VA.

So, I'd say not to discount your SO's advisor's advice out of hand, but to think about living closer to work. I-5 is a major snarl during the ever-expanding commuting hours and your SO would have to get on and off of it every day to get from the northern neighborhoods to her job. The Seattle P-I has a great online resource that basically lets you learn a little bit about all the neighborhoods and I've found their reviews to be pretty right on, not perfect, but good ballparks. If you have more questions, feel free to email me.
posted by jessamyn at 7:42 AM on November 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

Jessamyn makes a good suggestion about looking south of the Ship Cannal. The commute will be much easier. I would get out a map to see where the bridges and other constrictions are to help decide where to live. And be aware that some of the bridges open for maritime traffic on a regular basis (Fremont, Ballard, Montlake, University, am I missing any?). I think there's a bridge on the Duwamish that opens too.
posted by lobakgo at 8:00 AM on November 5, 2004

I've been quiet because of all the good advice. I love me my Capitol Hill, but I hates me the street hassles in the 'hood right now.

Last night I walked Broadway from Pike/Pine to the just-opened gigantor QFC in the old Broadway Market building seeking 4" x 3" sheet labels. Not one place, among about ten, had them. I was panhandled at least twice per block the whole way, which gets really irritating. Broadway has lost a great deal of the walkability it once had, and damn it's nearly impossible to just get sundries in he neighborhood. I sure hope it gets better.
posted by mwhybark at 9:02 AM on November 5, 2004

Don't discount the Central District (CD), either - just off Cap. Hill and close to downtown, lovely homes, lots of house rentals, yards abound, and the prices are much more reasonable than in many other parts of the city.
posted by tristeza at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2004

Sorry, gotta defend my 'hood!

Capitol Hill around Broadway is kinda nasty - but cmon, it's not THAT bad! (it's been my neighborhood forever)

The rents are much down from the absurd late 90's when everyone and their brother was moving here.

Living up near 15th would be really cool- Victrolla, Rainbow, The Canterbury... it think it's the "new" broadway.

And if you ever get a job downtown - you can walk there.

Good advice all around.... except Bellevue!! :)

By the way - don't EVER live in Bellevue! That has got to be the most boring, corporate area EVER!
posted by mildred-pitt at 9:48 AM on November 5, 2004

Pile-on question:

How would any of you adjust this advice to an out-of-towner looking to move to Seattle and buy a house ($350K range tops) --same kind of neighborhood desired as freshgroundpepper, but easy commute to downtown? I have liked the feel of West Seattle on a visit but some folks tell me its sketchy if you don't know what you're doing.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:37 AM on November 5, 2004

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks to everyone for the fantastic suggestions. I've got my next couple of days planned out now :).

You guys are recommending what sound like the exact kind of places that I'd like to live in.

Regarding rent costs. I'm currently paying $1050 for the bottom half of a duplex with 2 bedrooms. I'm willing to pay more (and expect to), but wouldn't want to go above something like $1200-1300.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 10:52 AM on November 5, 2004

Regarding rent costs. I'm currently paying $1050 for the bottom half of a duplex with 2 bedrooms. I'm willing to pay more (and expect to), but wouldn't want to go above something like $1200-1300.

You shouldn't have a problem. I live in a 2-bedroom on Capitol Hill and pay $1100, which is a touch on the high side, given that it's a condo that includes parking and a pool. Depending on where you decide (like say Ballard or West Seattle), you could easily pay less.
posted by Skot at 11:16 AM on November 5, 2004

Have to agree that Bellevue doesn't really sound like what freshgroundpepper is looking for, but there's nothing wrong with it if you're the type of person who likes quiet.
posted by kindall at 11:56 AM on November 5, 2004

_sirmissalot_, how much house do you want? Unless you want a house that's definitely a project(as in it needs work), $350K is the probably close to the minimum of what you'll pay if you want an easy commute. I live near the Ballard/Phinney Ridge area mentioned above and not very large houses with 2-3 bedrooms, less than 2 full baths, on not big lots, with some updates but not a ton, in a decent but not perfect neighborhood are going for $420K and up it seems. And from what I've heard there are still bidding wars.
posted by lobakgo at 12:00 PM on November 5, 2004

We've been poking around on the real estate sites and were hoping to find a small-but-decent 3 bedroom for that price. I hope we're not screwed.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 2:18 PM on November 5, 2004

I don't know that the real estate sites will help much. I think for much of the time in the last 5 yrs. many houses aren't on the market long enough to make it online. In the last few months I've seen 1-2 houses where the "For Sale" sign went up in front of the house with the "Sold" sign already on it. Of course, there are plenty that are on the market longer, but I think they tend to be asking too much or they're a granny house that needs a lot of work, etc.

The bidding wars are what shock me. People offering tens of thousands over the asking price(which already seems quite high) losing out by not even being close to the best offer. I think what it takes is being here and really assertively looking. I don't know if it's still like this, but when we bought our house about 4yrs. ago, we looked at houses that weren't even ready to show (piles of smelly debris, etc.) yet because the competition was so high. But we lucked out with the house we bought. There wasn't a bidding war, I think in large part because we were fast. And we were fast because we had our ducks in a row, we knew what we wanted, and by that time we new what the market had to offer.
posted by lobakgo at 2:53 PM on November 5, 2004

Thanks for the advice on this. I'll cross my fingers for a housing crash in the next ten months, or at least for things to cool down. (As our friends recently bought a 1,000 square foot fixer-upper here in Berkeley for $500k, I guess I shouldn't complain . . . )

Given that, it may mean expanding our idea of desirable neighborhoods.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 3:27 PM on November 5, 2004

I think it may be good to expand your idea of desirable neighborhoods and also how much work you're willing to put into the house to get it the way you want. I know two people who have recently bought houses and both are doing work on them. But I also think it's possible to find a decent house you can afford. Even though it would be a hassle, I think I'd consider renting until I found what I wanted.

The market is supposed to be slow around the holidays, so while there aren't as many houses for sale, there might be some "deals" because someone selling at this time of year may really need to sell. Things start picking up after the New Year. True the market could cool down, but housing close in is a limited commodity--there's the Puget Sound on one side and Lake Washington on the other. Then the suburbs are limited by the mountains further east. It seems insane that they could be close enough to have any impact, but areas well north of Seattle that were mainly rolling farmland when we moved here 13 yrs. ago are literally unrecognizable to me anymore.
posted by lobakgo at 4:08 PM on November 5, 2004

Beacon Hill is a good place to look. It is BIG. Parts of the Hill are very middle-class. Parts are not. It's the size of several neighborhoods, really, so don't write it off because one part of it isn't what you like. The VA hospital is sort of in an in-between location on the hill. I could walk there in 10 minutes. :) (I live further north, near the library.)

Housing on the Hill is still cheaper than most other neighborhoods because most white urban professionals are afraid of anything southeast of the canal other than Capitol Hill. (As someone alluded to above -- this is because they don't know anything about South Seattle and probably never go there.) Beacon Hill, because of its location (accessible but not a thoroughfare), is a place you don't just pass through while going other places, so I bet 90% of the people in North Seattle have never set foot on it. You should disregard the advisor's suggestion as it is that kind of "north of the canal only!" thing. Trust me, you do NOT want to go between North and South Seattle during rush hour if possible. If the job is in the South, look south for housing. You will be much happier that way. Traffic here is terrifying.

Beacon Hill is a wonderful place (in parts) -- right near I-5 and I-90 so you can get anywhere, minutes from downtown, right on the new light-rail line that is being built, close to Safeco Field if you like baseball, full of tons of wonderful old 1910-era homes (with yards even!), close to the International District/Chinatown for shopping and eating, and full of lots of diverse character.

Having said that, the downsides here are: no movie theaters (but close to theaters in downtown, Capitol Hill, and Columbia City), no bookstores (closest one is probably the Kinokuniya in the Uwajimaya store in Chinatown, but we have a bright shiny new library), and the closest co-ops are in Capitol/First Hill (Madison Market) and Seward Park (PCC). But those aren't terribly far. Not really walking distance, but pretty close to home. And there are flare-ups in parts of the Hill of some problems like drugs, prostitution, etc. (But remember, it's a big freaking Hill so there are other parts where that sort of thing is pretty near unthinkable.)

Anything north of the Canal that isn't sketchy is going to cost at least $100,000 more than the comparable house on Beacon Hill -- maybe even worse.

I have lived on Beacon Hill for more than 8 years now and really like it. If you have any questions, let me know.
posted by litlnemo at 6:13 PM on November 5, 2004

Hey freshgroundpepper, you and you SO should come out to the Seattle MeFi meetup tomorrow (Saturday) night.
posted by tomharpel at 9:10 PM on November 5, 2004

Props to mildred-pitt for spending enough time in Capitol Hill to know that it's spelled with an O.

I lived in Seattle 94-98 and then again for about four months in 2003. I lived mostly on Capitol Hill, some on First Hill, some in Ravenna, some in the U-district.

Capitol Hill is not what it once was, but it still holds a special place in my heart, and if it's gotten 'dangerous,' I must not have noticed. Maybe it's because I've also lived in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles (which is, to be honest, much less dangerous than some other places, but still significantly more dangerous than Seattle's Broadway). During my last residence in Seattle, I walked up and down Broadway, and in the surrounding area, many times, day and night, and never felt the least bit threatened.

And Ballard is not a good place to live. Are you kidding?
posted by bingo at 9:25 PM on November 5, 2004

Bingo, Ballard has more live music clubs that interest me than the Hill does today. Dangerous? Dunno. Am I annoyed by the panhandlers instead of charmed? Definitely. I've lived three blocks off Broadway since 1990, and it sucketh at the moment.

And I emphasize the correctness of Beacon Hill as a neglected buyer's destination.

As for a 350k in-town home, send me the links so we can buy it!
posted by mwhybark at 2:00 AM on November 6, 2004

bingo, I don't think of Broadway as all that dangerous either, but it has gone way downhill from what it was a few years ago. Sort of the same way the U District did a few years earlier than that.

Ballard, like Beacon Hill, is big enough to include both some great areas to live in, and some not-so-great. It used to be a real bargain, but hasn't been for some years now. The main thing that sucks about Ballard is that it is kind of out of the way. Going cross-town here always sucks, and if you live in Ballard, you go cross-town a lot.
posted by litlnemo at 2:56 AM on November 6, 2004

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