What's the best way to secure an apartment in downtown Seattle, while I'm still in NYC?
January 31, 2012 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I just got an offer from a company in Seattle (my top choice!) and am to start work on Feb. 27. I currently live in NYC. I've already got my plane ticket, and I leave on the 24th. What's the best way to secure an apartment in downtown Seattle, while I'm still in NYC?

As per company policy, there's no relocation assistance - they've been burned on that front in the past.

I don't want to suffer an interim period where I'm staying in hotels/hostels in Seattle while looking for a place there, because it'll be a drain on me financially. What I wish to do is secure a place in (downtown) Seattle while I'm still living in NYC. However, I'm worried about selection bias against me because I'm not currently based in the locale.

I'm using Craigslist Seattle to find available apartments. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I should present my agenda to the landlord/renter? Should I conceal the fact that I currently live in NYC? Should I be direct about it, and offer to send a copy of my offer of employment, which clearly states my more-than-sufficient starting salary?

Looking forward to living in Seattle, it sounds like the city of my dreams!
posted by brighteyes7 to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any friends who currently live in Seattle? Finding apartments through associates has worked well for me in the past. You might even try contacting people from any association you're affiliated with to have them help you out (e.g. a church, community group, etc.)
posted by rinogo at 10:02 AM on January 31, 2012

(And I'd be straight-up with the landlord/renter. Sounds like you've got some good ideas on how to proceed with that! :) )
posted by rinogo at 10:03 AM on January 31, 2012

Why not look for a short term sublet on Craigslist? That's what I did when moving to a new city, it gave me 3 months to find a permanent place.
posted by ghharr at 10:04 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Don't have friends in Seattle =/.

Yes, I'll generally always agree that honesty is preferable to concealment!
posted by brighteyes7 at 10:10 AM on January 31, 2012

Before I moved to Seattle, I looked for apartments on Craigslist and was honest with landlords about the fact that I wasn't local yet. I didn't have any issues with selection bias. Generally all they cared about were whether I had a job lined up (I had to provide proof), whether I had good credit and what my prior landlords had to say about me. Housing isn't so competitive here that you have to prove your awesomeness to win the opportunity to sign a lease.

Still, it helped to come out for a weekend and look at apartments and neighborhoods in person. Is there any way you can swing that? I know the flight is pricey, but you can get a cheap hotel near the airport and then take the bus up to the city to scope out several apartments in one day. Seattle is the kind of city where you can go look at apartments today that are vacant right now and ready to move in within your time frame (or sooner).

Also, is there any reason you are particularly wedded to finding a place downtown? You might want to broaden your neighborhood choice to include areas like lower Queen Anne or Capitol Hill, which are walkable to downtown and contain a lot of short-term sublets as well as full leases. Downtown Seattle is... not a particularly great/fun place to live compared to those neighborhoods, and full of a weird mix of transient housing as well as million dollar condos. Apartments for the rest of us tend to be in other neighborhoods.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:26 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

While your new company doesn't offer anything in terms of official relocation assistance (I assume you mean money), do you have any contacts you could ask there that might be able to help you? They hired you because they wanted you to come work for them; they have a vested interest in ensuring that you are not miserable on your move out. While it's unreasonable to ask an HR person to go look at apartments for you, there's probably something they can do short of that.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:28 AM on January 31, 2012

I agree with joan_holloway—I wouldn't want to live in downtown proper. It's really expensive, and I agree that neighborhoods adjoining downtown are actually nicer places to leave, in that there are more relevant shopping (including grocery), dining, and bar destinations. Most of what you get for that expense is proximity to work if you really work downtown. What neighborhood is your employer in? Are they actually in the Central Business District or are they in South Lake Union, Belltown, or Pioneer Square? See the city's neighborhood atlas to see where neighborhoods are.

I absolutely recommend getting a short-term sublet or renting a room from Craigslist for a month. I did this and I'm really glad I did, because I probably would have been stuck in a poor choice for a year lease otherwise. You shouldn't have much trouble finding a place once you get here.

You should add the seattle tag to this question, so more Seattleites will see it.
posted by grouse at 11:02 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about couchsurfing for a few days while you look at apartments?
posted by mareli at 11:10 AM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I challenge your assumption that staying in a hotel or hostel is a waste of money before signing a lease. It is, in the opinion of many, a good investment in your peace of mind. If you signed a lease for an apartment, without ever spending time in the neighborhood or getting the lay of the land, you could be stuck living somewhere you don't want to be. Now that's a waste of money.

I agree with the above posters who suggest finding a short-term or sublease on craigslist is a good idea, but you may find that a hostel ends up being cheaper for temporary housing than a short-term lease.
posted by juniperesque at 11:13 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Airbnb is also an option for a short-term stay. For a whole month it would be more expensive than subleasing, but it would be easy to set up.
posted by grouse at 11:18 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with junipereqsue that renting the wrong place, more than possible when looking remotely or just not being familiar with the area in general, could be more of a waste of money than a week or two in a hotel or Airbnb rental. Ask me about the year I lived in Sunnyvale.
posted by kcm at 11:24 AM on January 31, 2012

What about one of those corporate apartments you can rent by the month? It might cost a little more than a "regular" apartment, but they're usually furnished and it would give you a comfortable base to look for a "real" place.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:27 AM on January 31, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies. By downtown I did mean actually downtown + the surrounding vicinity.

Thanks everyone again for the replies.
posted by brighteyes7 at 11:31 AM on January 31, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!

I am actually looking for places in Queen Anne, First Hill, Capitol Hill, Belltown as well.

Any differences with regards to the culture of each neighborhood?

I hear the warnings regarding locking down a lease sight unseen. Point definitely taken into consideration.
posted by brighteyes7 at 11:36 AM on January 31, 2012

I live downtown near the waterfront and love it--I walk to my office in Pioneer Square (which has a variety of loft-like options) and walk to the Pike Place Market . . .

Agree with everyone that you would be best off doing some on-the-ground looking before committing to a lease.
posted by donovan at 11:57 AM on January 31, 2012

I'd recommend searching MetaFilter on Google for your neighborhood of interest [site:metafilter.com "queen anne" seattle], and also looking for the neighborhood blogs. They'll give you a bit of an idea of what the neighborhoods are like.

You haven't said where exactly your employer is, but assuming they're in the CBD, I'd probably prefer to live in Capitol Hill myself, followed by South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne/Uptown, Belltown, and then First Hill.
posted by grouse at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2012

Response by poster: The reason I chose to move downtown is because I'm from NYC, and don't yet know how to drive, nor do I own a car - don't tell my employers! So I'd like to be able to walk everywhere. All I need is a Trader Joe's, some coffee shops, and some retail, some greenery/scenery!

My employer is in the CBD.
posted by brighteyes7 at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2012

I've lived in Fremont for three years without a car, no problem.

All of those neighborhoods will be fine without a car. Belltown and First Hill don't have real grocery stores. The grocery options in the CBD suck in my opinion (IGA and buying stuff at Pike Place Market). South Lake Union has a Whole Foods. Capitol Hill and Queen Anne have plenty of grocery stores. Retail is most interesting in Capitol Hill. Greenery/scenery will actually be best in the CBD (so, hey, there is another plus for it), but Belltown, LQA, Capitol Hill all have nice parks in the neighborhood or nearby.

This is Seattle; there are good coffee shops in all of these neighborhoods.
posted by grouse at 12:17 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Neighborhoods can vary pretty dramatically in character in Seattle. You might or might not notice it in a first drive-through, but once you've been around for awhile, you get the feeling for it.

Queen Anne is a quieter, upscale suburbia-in-the-city environment. Capitol Hill has a strip of lively nightlife, but also houses & such off that strip. The whole city is (in my view, though I'm straight) pretty friendly or at least hospitable to gays, for instance, but Cap Hill is much more openly so. First Hill has lots of immigrant families; it's a nice neighborhood and all, but the businesses there are frequently geared toward folks who don't necessarily have a lot of money.

It's worth it to do the research on the neighborhoods. That, or simply understand that you may move here, sign a year lease, and then at the end of that year give sincere consideration to moving once you get to know the area better.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:56 PM on January 31, 2012

I don't think any employer would fault you for not wanting to drive and park downtown, and buses are plentiful and convenient. Capitol Hill has a lot of character, ranging from somewhat grungy nightlife around Broadway to beautiful mansions up around 15th. It would be my first choice, and has plenty of parks, coffee shops, grocery stores (including a Trader Joe's) and bars. It's extremely walkable.

I thought Queen Anne was a bit more of a PITA without a car, but very beautiful. If you don't mind taking public transportation, Fremont and Wallingford are both a bus ride across the bridge away, and are very friendly, walkable neighborhoods. Downtown is very busy during the day, but it's really nothing like NYC and is pretty much deserted at night. It's really more of a business area than a fun-to-live-in area.

It might be hard to get a landlord to agree to rent to you, but you might have better luck subletting. I met a lot of people who were willing to sublet to me and we did Skype interviews and tours of the house - but none of the landlords of those places would have had time for stuff like that.
posted by ke rose ne at 1:28 PM on January 31, 2012

This may be an outlier, but Winslow (Bainbridge Is.) has a LOT of newish apartments that are within a short walk to the ferry. Not this, specifically, but something like that. If you work downtown, you won't need a car, just the ferry schedule.
posted by Danf at 1:36 PM on January 31, 2012

Belltown and First Hill don't have real grocery stores.

This is not true, my condo is smack in the middle of Belltown and easy walking distance to the Belltown Whole Foods. Also easy walking distance to the market, and there's an overpriced but nicely stocked small grocery across the street for when you realize you forgot to buy a lemon. I never found groceries to be an issue.

Also, I recently rented this condo out, and many of the inquiries I got were from people in your very position, wanting to rent long distance. It's not unusual at all. Most were new interns/residents at one of the major medical centers. I sent lots of photos, and a couple of people sent friends/colleagues to look at it for them. I ended up renting to someone local but I think you'll find people are pretty used to dealing with this. Just be upfront about it.
posted by HotToddy at 1:48 PM on January 31, 2012

my condo is smack in the middle of Belltown and easy walking distance to the Belltown Whole Foods

Heh. That just shows you how flexible the definitions of neighborhood in Seattle are—I don't usually think of the Denny Triangle as being in Belltown, despite its place in the map I linked to earlier.
posted by grouse at 2:02 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know, I don't actually think of that WF as being in Belltown, either, but apparently they think of themselves as the Belltown WF and it is definitely easily accessible from Belltown. The important point is that there are plenty of good grocery options within walking distance!
posted by HotToddy at 2:17 PM on January 31, 2012

Also, not having a car in Seattle is not a huge problem. I don't drive either (eye issues) and can get around fine. The bus situation is great, honestly. if you have an iPhone or an Android phone, get the OneBusAway app and you have an on hand "where the hell is that" bus schedule checker.

I live in the south end of Beacon Hill (practically Renton or Tukwila) and it's still 40 minutes to downtown on the bus, or a bit of a walk and then the light rail. Which is like a jet compared to where I lived in New Jersey trying to get to work in NYC, trust me.

You may also want to look in Ballard. Lived there for most of my first year in Seattle, only left because the landlady went mad with rent hikes and demanding only her contractor fix things (then not calling said contractor for a month or two). Lovely area, lots of stuff, but once you get off the main drags, peaceful.
posted by mephron at 2:40 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Lifelong Seattleite here: Yeah, I don't think of that WF as Belltown either. For that matter, much of what people call Belltown these days is more properly "The Denny Regrade" to me, but perhaps that means I'm getting old...)

The south slope of Queen Anne (lower QA or "Uptown" as some call it) is not like upper QA, I think. Comments like "Queen Anne is a quieter, upscale suburbia-in-the-city environment" apply more to upper QA than the lower south slope. That south slope area near Seattle Center is probably not bad for your purposes, and the buses run frequently.

You might also consider North Beacon Hill, which is right on the light rail line, and nearly adjacent to downtown (well, more to Sodo, I guess. But darned close). North Beacon is not as urban even though it's only a few minutes from the CBD. From the train station on North Beacon, you can be all the way to Westlake mall (in the shopping district) in about 15-20 minutes. Not only that, but the #36 bus that runs here runs every 7-12 minutes during the day. Beacon doesn't have retail like other neighborhoods, but it's so easily accessible by rail that it's not a problem. (And we have groceries that aren't Whole-Foods-expensive, plus bigger grocery stores only a stop or three away by train -- QFC and the awesome Uwajimaya). We do have one of the best coffee shops in town, The Station. And a Victrola Coffee.

Some would complain that Beacon doesn't have enough nightlife... but the scuttlebutt this week is that not one, but THREE new pubs are opening very soon. One is the Oak, by the folks who operate the Redwood on Capitol Hill.

There are no Trader Joe's stores in South Seattle, which is irritating, I admit. But there are some that are still accessible by transit in other neighborhoods.
posted by litlnemo at 2:55 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Columbia City is 1. on Light Rail, 2. Affordable, and 3. Has numerous little awesome shops and bars and such.

Go Columbia City.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:18 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I got a one-bedroom apartment in Queen Anne, with views of the Puget Sound!

The real-estate here (anywhere but NYC) is incredibly affordable...In our city we pay $1500 a month for essentially closets!

Looking forward to living in this great city and locale!
posted by brighteyes7 at 12:01 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

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