What neighborhood should we explore in Seattle?
July 22, 2012 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Seattle neighborhood recommendations. More inside.

We moved to Seattle and are staying in Greenwood for a year-ish. But we need to start exploring potential neighborhoods to buy in, so we're looking for ideas.

- I'll be at UW.
- Spouse's employment situation is yet unknown, but we'd like his commute to not be bad either. (I know this is a big factor.)
- Kid will be in preschool next year and will start Kindergarten in Fall '14. (And is going to be attending a preschool in Greenwood this fall.)

Things we like:
- Safe neighborhood.
- Either good public schools or ideas about private schools for our sensitive kid.
- Public transit options for all. Short commutes for all.
- House with space for us and our stuff. Best case would be for big closets and each adult to have his/her own office space.
- Small yard.
- Walkable parks for kid.
- Walkable groceries.
- Walkable cafes/dining.
- Friendly neighbors is a plus.
- Not a fixer-upper and already remodeled would please me.
- I'm not a fan of these ultra close houses. I feel like I can't walk naked from the bathroom to the bedroom. But this isn't a huge dealbreaker.
- Closer to the airport would be a plus, but isn't a dealbreaker.
- Walkable retail is fun for me, but not a dealbreaker.

In my mind, I'd like to spend time this fall hanging out in various neighborhoods to see if we like it. I'd like to organize a move in the spring of 2013 (I took the term off from teaching to oversee this), with us possibly having to drive kid to preschool in Greenwood for awhile if it worked out that way.

Hints about Seattle real estate are welcome. Also, I have no idea what price ranges are like for houses here, so insights into that are welcome. (We also don't know what spouse's salary will be, but assume it'll be similar to what he used to make.)
posted by k8t to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Wedgwood is a neighborhood to explore. By the UW, and a quick busride to campus (on 35th Ave Ne). Close to Metropolitan Market (owned by Whole Foods) and PCC (another great grocery store -- organics and such) and also QFC (Kroeger) and Safeway. Parks all around (Check out Matthews Beach), coffee shops, and University Village if you want a huge, upscale shopping area.

Lots of older homes with yards, lots of kid and puppehs. Good schools.
posted by lotus-eater at 2:08 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wallingford. green lake, north of UW, montlake, sandpoint. Fremont /phinney ridge
posted by victory_laser at 2:27 PM on July 22, 2012

I would encourage you to look in the southern part of West Seattle. Hits all of your criteria including transit (there are always good busses to UW from almost anywhere in the city) and the schools are excellent (full disclosure: I taught at all the SW elementary schools: Arbor Heights, Roxhill, Concord, Highland Park, and Sanislo). The neighborhoods are very diverse, and there is an excellent sense of community, spanning many different income levels and cultures.

We live in Capitol Hill, which is also an awesome area but slightly less awesome (and more expensive) if you want to try to have a family here. We've always said that if we had kids right now, we would buy a house in the Arbor Heights neighborhood. West Seattle is super cool.

PM me if you have other questions, especially about schools and neighborhoods. We're moving to Illinois next week and even though I am excited about moving, I will miss Seattle (and the Seattle School District) terribly!
posted by rossination at 2:29 PM on July 22, 2012

You've given some good parameters for the known variables, which will help tremendously in your search. The largest factors - income and housing price range - keep me from giving very specific information.

Given that you want a short commute to the UW, I would not recommend living any further south than downtown Seattle unless you choose parts of the Central District that are connected to either the 48 or 43 by bus. If you don't mind a transfer, you can always bus into downtown and then catch very frequent buses from the downtown bus tunnel to campus. Busing from West Seattle to the UW will take an hour or more during peak hours.

For real estate advice, I recommend Seattle Bubble. He's been blogging for some years now, and you can get a sense of the trends in Seattle. It's not as good at the "let's look at pretty houses" bit that you can get from real estate websites, but it's great for understanding trends and context.

As for schools for your child, keep in mind that Seattle has a neighborhood-based assignment system. Seattle Public Schools will guarantee a spot and transportation (outside of a certain walk zone) for that school. Try the New Student Assignment Plan (NSAP) website for more information. The NSAP is being phased in, so be sure to keep an eye on that site for the 2013-2014 plan, as boundaries will likely shift again.

Given your other criteria - moderately dense urban - I mostly agree with victory_laser. Sandpoint can be a bit removed, being quite far east and less retail and restaurants than other neighborhoods. And I would add Ballard to the list for its restaurants, retail, and robust public transportation.
posted by frizz at 3:05 PM on July 22, 2012

I think you should look at Madrona and the surrounding area. Easy commuting to UW by the 48 bus (runs every ~10-15 min during peak times). Garfield High School is one of the best in the nation. Most homes are the sort that you would like, but with prices lower than other central Seattle areas (although definitely not as low as north Seattle). Madrona retail is fun, and has a very awesome wine bar.
posted by saeculorum at 3:08 PM on July 22, 2012

lotus-eater: " ... Close to Metropolitan Market (owned by Whole Foods) ...."

Nope. Met Market is a local chain.

But back on topic, yes, Wedgwood - we used to live there. We live just south of Wedgwood now, in Bryant, and have been in the NE Seattle area for 17 years. If you're planning on daycare in Greenwood, and you'll be at UW, I'd stay in the north end so you aren't battling mid-town traffic. You might also consider Matthews Beach, Lake City, Maple Leaf, and Ballard. All different neighborhoods, but within reasonable distance of UW.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:11 PM on July 22, 2012

For the record, we'd only be carting kid to preschool in Greenwood for a few months. It isn't a deal breaker.
posted by k8t at 8:31 PM on July 22, 2012

West Seattle to UW is a good 45-60 minute commute (one-way). It is especially tough with the viaduct de/reconstruction going on between SoDo and West Seattle. Wouldn't advise that area unless you are okay with long commutes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:14 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed living in Ballard. If you can find a place near 24th Street, you can catch the 75 bus that goes right onto the UW campus, also stopping by Northgate Mall, a Safeway, two QFCs, and a bunch of other stores. Old Ballard's a great place, too.

(Also you can take a 15 or 18 downtown from there, and that also takes you past a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods if you like that kind of thing.)

(the only reason we left Ballard was a kind of crazy landlady; otherwise, despite the fairly small house we were in I'd love to still be there.)
posted by mephron at 12:58 AM on July 23, 2012

University District: super walkable. I'm by 50th and 11th, I have Safeway, Trader Joe's, AND Whole Foods in walking distance. Great bus service, great walkable retail/caf├ęs/etc, two parks in casual walking distance, plus the U grounds which are pretty parky in and of themselves in some places.

I have no clue about the housing market or school situation, as I rent, and have no kids.
posted by egypturnash at 1:33 AM on July 23, 2012

Oh, and when you get an idea of the area where you want to live, take a look at the Seattle crime maps to see if you're headed into a trouble spot.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:06 AM on July 23, 2012

I have a lot of thoughts for you, as my husband and I are presently house-hunting in Seattle, we also have a young family, and we seem to have a lot of the same requirements. It would be easier to give you more helpful suggestions if we knew your definition of a "short" commute (because that means different things to different people) and your price range (I recognize you might not be comfortable stating that here).

Off the top of my head, some things to think about, in random order ...

1. The housing market here is weird right now. Most, if not all, of the foreclosures within the city limits are being held off the market by the banks. Homes are selling quickly because there just isn't a lot of inventory -- I think a lot of people really stretched to buy a house during the boom years, and even if they may not be technically underwater they don't have a huge incentive to sell. So I wouldn't hold yourselves to a specific timeline for buying, because it may take a while for the type of house you are looking for to show up on the market. And what you desire in a house is what all Seattleites seem to desire, so there's competition for those houses.
2. I happen to define walkable as at least having sidewalks. You'd be surprised at how few neighborhoods do have sidewalks. Greenwood has large areas without sidewalks. Also, you are getting a lot of suggestions for Wedgwood -- which is a lovely area and we are looking at it for ourselves -- but most of it doesn't actually have sidewalks, and it's a little bit of a hike to the grocery stores. Same for Northgate, Pinehurst, Meadowbrook.
3. I am guessing given yourselves + kid + offices you ideally want a 4 bedroom? This so very much depends on your budget. I mean ... really, really depends on your budget, because Seattle houses are rather small in neighborhoods with sidewalks, unless you have a lot of money to spend on a house.
4. Commute -- I happen to hate the east-west commute across the city (north of Lake Union). It's a drag, the major arterials are relatively narrow. But maybe a short commute to you is anything less than 30-45 minutes? Is it possible that your husband would be working on the eastside (of Lake Washington) or south of Seattle? I wouldn't make a permanent move to Ballard or West Seattle in that case. North-south commutes can be equally problematic. Light rail is being extended to UW so that might open up some more southern neighborhoods for you, like Beacon Hill or Columbia City. But until light rail it's not a great drive or bus ride. Another thing to consider is that commuter bus service to UW is pretty great, so that might open up some communities outside of Seattle for you guys if your husband has a job far off somewhere.
5. Schools -- look into this more on your own. Seattle Public Schools has some serious budget issues and what I've heard from my teacher friends has me a little concerned.

If budget is less of a concern, I'd look into UW-adjacent neighborhoods like:
Ravenna (you could walk to work)
Bryant (you maybe could walk to work)
Maple Leaf
Wedgwood (the parts with sidewalks, closer to 35th NE)
(I wouldn't look into the U-district to buy, as it's very expensive, there's a fair amount of crime, and most of the housing is for students -- just go a few blocks north or east to Ravenna and Bryant.)

Crossing I-5, but still reasonably close to UW and a not-painful commute to downtown or the eastside:
Wallingford (expensive, but lots of cutesy shops etc)
Greenlake (Tangletown side or 65th NE side)

Depending how you feel about cross-town traffic:
Ballard (really, you described Ballard, except for the commute)
Crown Hill/Carkeek Park area
Magnolia (great access to downtown & Ballard, the little commercial area of Magnolia is quite pleasant, maybe not so great to UW)
Queen Anne (getting to/from QA can be a little awkward, but it's really nice up there)

If you are more price sensitive:
Beacon Hill
Columbia City
Hillman City
NE Seattle neighborhoods without sidewalks don't seem walkable at all to me.

You notice how all my remarks are pretty much about the commute? The close-in Seattle neighborhoods don't seem that differentiated to me. There's a lot of money here and the population is relatively homogenous, so at times it seems like everyone is a bourgeois bohemian eating their Whole Foods snacks out of a BPA-free container while pushing their baby around in an European stroller. Native Seattleites don't like to admit it, but this town is really, really white. If ethnic diversity is important to you, you might want to look at the neighborhoods on the edge of the city, the southern part of the Central District (Judkins Park - but not so cheap), or leave Seattle for the closer, nicer suburbs.

I'd recommend playing around on Redfin and Google maps. Also look at sales records on Redfin to get an accurate idea of how much houses are actually selling for. There seems to be a lot of wishful thinking on the part of sellers ...

Holy cow this is a long non-answer. MeMail if you want to chat about housing.
posted by stowaway at 9:26 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have lived in Queen Anne and Ballard while I worked at the UW. Both of these would be great with kids, and have everything else you listed.

There are express buses to the UW: from Ballard there's the 46 and from Queen Anne there's the 45. They have limited schedules, which worked great for me as a 9-5'er (actually a 8-4'er); my commute was short and convenient. If you work longer hours, Ballard is definitely a better choice than QA, because the 44 and 48 run all the time.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:50 AM on July 23, 2012

The 31 bus runs from east Magnolia to UW through Fremont. It's a good route, but it stops operating at 7 PM, which makes working late tough for me.

Magnolia might be a decent neighborhood to investigate. Reasonably close to downtown and UW. Traffic isn't too horrible for either of us, since we miss most of Denny Way on the way home, and the 31 is mostly a straight shot once past Nickerson. It's a bit suburban, quiet, family-oriented. Not sure about quality of public schools, but lots of families live here and send their kids to school here.

It's tough to get to Ballard from Magnolia, unless you drive. This makes access to Ballard's nightlife a bit tougher. There's some property crime in the north and northwest bits of Magnolia, but by and large it is pretty quiet.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:12 PM on July 23, 2012

You would benefit from chatting with a good real estate agent. If you have time, go to some real estate open houses in the neighborhoods that interest you. You'll find these listings on redfin. Open houses are usually on Sunday afternoon.
Chat with the agents. Even if you don't plan to buy, they will be happy to fill you in on all the questions you listed above.

If you've never worked with an agent... some are terrible, most are average, and a good one is gold. I know a few reputable, experienced agents from various agencies. Me-mail me if you'd like some names. (I am not in the real estate biz. I've owned a couple of houses.)
posted by valannc at 10:42 PM on July 23, 2012

Don't live in Magnolia if you're planning on using the bus a lot to get around. Magnolia is the moon. The buses are not very convenient and they are slow, there's not enough in Magnolia to make you never want to leave Magnolia (though the Seattle Pie Company is there, which I love even if their hours are not very good), and it's far enough from the freeways that getting anywhere outside of Seattle (airport, eastside, etc) won't be fun if you have to do it on a regular basis. I think I would consider West Seattle before I would consider Magnolia -- West Seattle has better bus service and more stuff (walkability, retail, etc.) -- I really wouldn't consider either of them if I was commuting to UW on the bus.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2012

So I worked at UW for a decade, and we bought our house with UW commuting in mind. (Which promptly spoiled by getting a job in Bellevue, but whatever.)

We bought on the north side of Maple Leaf. And I think that Maple Leaf is a good choice, for a number of reasons.

Roosevelt has the 73 and the 373, both of which go straight to UW and around on Stevens.

Maple Leaf Park will come online sometime middle of next year.

Sacajawea is a top 10 or 15 elementary school, and Olympic View is almost as good.

There are two coffee shops of note -- Cloud City and Blue Saucer -- and some good restaurants strewn along Roosevelt. It's not as dense as, say, downtown Magnolia, but there's good variety.

The housing stock is very mixed. Pretty much every sort of house from 1920s bungalow to mid-century modern to 2000s inbuilt.

Northgate is fairly close. Busable, too.

Airport... well, eventually the light rail will get to Northgate.

Downsides: There's some crime problems. North of 95th or so the sidewalks start disappearing. There's no density of restaurants and shops -- they're pretty scattered.

Oh, and it can be pricey to get in to Maple Leaf. $300K to get something small but workable, up to $500K for a larger place.

But we like it here. It's the right mix of in-the-city and no-one-living-on-top-of-us.
posted by dw at 7:12 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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