No matter your reasons for considering Seattle as your next home, you’ll hardly be alone as a newcomer. A booming tech industry has drawn thousands of new residents to the Emerald City in the last 10 years, but despite what any current Amazonian or Microsoft employee might tell you, there’s still plenty to do outside of work.
Seattle is teeming with exciting events, activities, and natural wonders to explore no matter your budget.
Before you pack your bags, remember, getting settled in the crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest is anything but straightforward. The cost of living, price of rent, a competitive real estate market, and traffic that’s ranked fifth worst in the country can add any number of complications to an already stressful move.
But don’t worry — if you’re considering a move to Seattle in the near future, we’ve got you covered. Seattle Mortgage Planners helps current and aspiring Seattleites navigate and secure the best home loans and rates as they search for and settle into their new homes.
Regardless of your home financing approach, we want to give you a helpful guide of what to know before you head toward the 206.
The Basics of Moving to Seattle
Finding an Apartment or Home in Seattle
Zillow, Craigslist, and Apartment Finder are all decent options for online house hunting, but we can’t stress this enough — you’ll be woefully disadvantaged if you limit your housing search to online. Things move fast here, and it’s not uncommon for apartments to be filled before they’ve even been vacated, meaning those who are actually in Seattle (or within close driving distance for weekend showings) will have a significant leg up on other prospective Seattle residents.
Looking for short-term housing while you find a more permanent spot may place a bit more strain on your move, but finding a home base is worth it. The benefits of having a place to stay while you look for something within your price range, navigate your financing options in the event of a home purchase, and acclimate yourself to a new city outweigh the cons. Reach out to friends and family connections in the area to see who may have space available.
Otherwise, many hotels offer month-long leases, and the numerous micro apartments or aPodments® in the area have options for short-term stays at a reasonable rate. You can also search Craigslist and even Airbnb to find local sublets for longer stays.
Buying a home in Seattle is a competitive prospect. It’s not uncommon for successful buyers to land a sale quickly by paying with cash, and the market’s relentless upward wave (even during the current coronavirus pandemic) has the city’s inventory of available homes at record lows. The total active listings for sale in Seattle have dropped sharply by 33% as compared to last year, and so prices continue to climb.
For an example of what the average home costs in Seattle, Norada Real Estate Investments reported that in June of 2020, the median home sale price in Seattle increased by 2.62% compared to 2019 to $749,000, while King County in its entirety saw a median price increase of 5.85% to $675,000.
While doing your research before you make a move is a smart idea, finding a qualified real estate and mortgage broker to help assist you in your journey can make a significant impact on your chances of finding the right home for your current situation.
[Related: Guide to Buying a Home in Seattle]
Parking in Seattle
If you are moving to an area of Seattle that is more of a traditional neighborhood rather than right in the middle of downtown, you can probably expect to find a reasonable parking spot for your U-Haul, van, or truck (although it’s not a guarantee). If you’re moving downtown or on a main strip in a busy neighborhood such as Capitol Hill or Ballard, you may not have as much luck with long-term parking.
Depending on your building’s location, you may need to look into a parking permit or portable storage unit to keep your stuff handy during the moving process. Some neighborhoods have parking lots or garages you can purchase monthly passes for as well.
In the meantime, this quick Seattle guide “Can I Park Here?” can help you translate citywide signage.
Seattle Public Transit
The city’s public transit systems, King County Metro and Sound Transit, while sometimes unpredictable, are among the most cost-effective and reliable in the nation.
While King County Metro tends to connect with nearly every local street imaginable, Sound Transit manages commutes to other areas in the region — such as Tacoma, Lakewood and Everett — as well as operates the Link Light Rail System.
The light rail is continuing to expand, and currently operates from Sea-Tac (south of downtown and next to the airport) to the University District (next to the University of Washington). The light rail’s next stop will be Northgate, which is expected to be finished in 2021.
No matter what you opt to use to get around, you’ll want to pick up the following if you think you might use public transit in Seattle: an ORCA card and the OneBusAway mobile app — both of which will serve you well during your travels in this remarkable city.
Carsharing in Seattle
Car2Go and ZipCar are Seattle’s primary carsharing services, allowing members to pick up a car on-demand (the city map on each service’s respective apps will allow you to locate and reserve a vehicle). These services are an affordable alternative to driving your own vehicle and paying for parking — especially if you’re unsure of your final destination after a Mariners or Seahawks game.
The best part? The city’s department of transportation has a deal with these companies, allowing users to park for free in any designated public parking space.
[Related: 15 Essential Questions to Ask When Buying a Home]
Seattle’s On-Demand Transportation Apps
If you’ve visited a major metropolitan area in the last five or so years, chances are you’ve probably downloaded and used either Lyft or Uber. These are great solutions to start or end a group adventure across town, especially if your night involves a few drinks. Many people even use these apps to commute to and from their workplace.
Standard taxi services are also available in Seattle and utilize similar apps for scheduling and pickups, but the cost and convenience of Uber and Lyft make them the go-to options for Seattleites on the move.
Pro tip: if you aren’t in a rush, try the carpool options. These pick you up along with one or two other riders according to your route, and will end up saving you an extra couple of bucks.
The Nitty Gritty of Moving to Seattle
What do most potential Seattleites want to know above all else? Statistics of course! Crime, school, housing, weather, and demographics information galore. Read on.
The dirty secret of Seattle — especially surprising to those who cite the gritty edge you find downtown — is that it’s actually an incredibly safe place to live.
Although the city has a fairly high rate of homelessness, Seattle’s crime rate is pretty low. As long as you avoid going to unfamiliar places after dark and use common sense and safety precautions, Seattle is pretty diverse and welcoming.
Home Security in Seattle
While Seattle is for the most part a safe city, that doesn’t mean it is completely without crime. Depending on your neighborhood, experiencing car prowls, panhandling, and minor drug offenses within public view isn’t uncommon.
In residential neighborhoods, Seattle is much like other communities. You may experience excessive noise, speeding, or other minor disturbances — especially if you live in a neighborhood known for its nightlife. Forming a Block Watch, working together with your neighbors to prevent problems, and keeping a log of disturbances you and your community have experienced will help to offset those problems in the future.
Many neighborhoods also have designated Facebook groups where you can virtually meet your neighbors and discuss safety precautions and incidents (among a ton of other things!) The mobile app Nextdoor works in a similar way and is a great way to get involved with your new community.
As with any city, be sure to report dangerous crimes as they occur. The more information the police have, the better their chances of apprehending the suspects and making a difference in your neighborhood.
To be extra careful, we recommend you purchase renter’s insurance or homeowner’s insurance to keep your valuables and property safe.
If you choose to invest in a home security system, here are a few local options:
Seattle School Rankings
It’s no secret that education is a priority for Seattle residents of every stripe. Among the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle has the highest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 73% of residents between the ages of 25 and 34 are college graduates.
According to GreatSchools.org, here are the top five public elementary, middle, and high schools in Seattle:
Top Five Seattle Elementary Schools
- Coe Elementary School
- Greenwood Elementary School
- Lawton Elementary School
- Wedgwood Elementary School
- West Woodland Elementary School
Top Five Seattle Middle Schools
- Mercer Middle School
- Eckstein Middle School
- Hamilton International Middle School
- Mcclure Middle School
- Whitman Middle School
Top Five Seattle High Schools
- Ballard High School
- Roosevelt High School
- Garfield High School
- Ingraham High School
- Cleveland High School
According to Niche.com, the top five private high schools in the Seattle area are:
- Lakeside School
- The Overlake School
- Eastside Preparatory School
- The Bush School
- The Bear Creek School
[Related: Comparing Rent and Mortgage Payments]
The Neighborhoods of Seattle
Every metropolitan sprawl is defined by its own unique organization system that pieces together miles of city blocks to create a cohesive urban portrait. At the core of each city’s DNA is a distinct network of districts, and Seattle is no different.
Our pocket of the Puget Sound is partitioned into small neighborhoods, and each enjoys its own combination of vibes — from family-friendly to highbrow, bohemian, or working-class. To travel under Interstate 5 from west to east Seattle, or cross the Aurora or West Seattle bridge (currently under repair in 2020) is to enter a different world.
But no need to let the marked geographical distinctions confuse your move — instead, get excited to expand your horizons and meet community members from all walks of life! Browse below for an abridged guide (complete with links for further reference) to just a few of each area’s most popular neighborhoods.
The northern half of Seattle consists of:
- Northwest Seattle (most of the area west of Interstate 5 from Broadview and Bitter Lake down through Ballard),
- North central Seattle (including Phinney Ridge, Greenlake, Fremont, and Wallingford),
- Northeast Seattle (east of Interstate 5 from Wedgwood down through Montlake), and
- True north Seattle (roughly Olympic Hills down through Northgate and Maple Leaf).
An epicenter for hip and young urban professionals, Ballard boasts countless artisanal eats, and historical maritime undertones abound.
Funky-fresh, artsy, bookworm-friendly, and brimming with coffee shops and craft cocktail lounges. Residential Fremont is family-friendly, yet the neighborhood core is well-stocked with nightlife options.
Fremont’s next-door cousin has a slightly more residential feel, but activities and eats still reign supreme along the main drag on 45th Street. South Wallingford backs up against Lake Union at Gasworks Park, a recreation space that attracts strollers and daytime revelers alike.
Highly family-friendly, community-oriented, quaint, and calm — despite its proximity to more urban Seattle areas. Ravenna Park is the neighborhood’s crowning glory (and one of Seattle’s must-see parks).
More north Seattle neighborhoods include:
- Phinney Ridge
- Sand Point
[Related: Can I Afford to Buy a Home in Seattle?]
Below T-Mobile Park and CenturyLink Field (home of the Mariners and the Seahawks, respectively), between the Duwamish Waterway and south Lake Washington, much of south Seattle sits just outside the inner city bustle but can easily opt into the urban action.
For this reason, many of its neighborhoods are popular with families and people looking to escape high-demand (read: pricey) areas to the north.
This area can be spotted even from miles away, as its home to the brick-covered landmark Pacific Tower — a former U.S. Marine hospital.
Look north of Lake Washington from any of this scenic neighborhood’s waterfront park spots, and on a clear day, you might just catch a glimpse of Mt. Baker from miles away.
More south Seattle neighborhoods include:
- Columbia City
- Rainier Valley / Rainier Beach
If you’re looking for full immersion into city living, the heart of Seattle beats strongest in downtown and the surrounding areas. But not to worry — the outskirts of central Seattle offer a bit more peace and quiet while ensuring you don’t miss out on any excitement.
Downtown Seattle boasts popular local and tourist attractions (including the famous Pike Place Market), and even as you work your way out from its core, central spots such as Belltown and Pioneer Square have just as much to offer.
It’s all happening in this neighborhood: nightlife, counterculture, residential stretches, parks, cultural hubs, proximity to the city core, and even Bruce Lee’s gravesite.
More central Seattle neighborhoods include:
- Queen Anne
- Central District
Life’s a beach when you live in West Seattle. Expect views galore (often of the Sound, surrounding islands, and the Seattle skyline — sometimes all from one vantage point) and a bit more elbow room to play and unwind outside of the urban jungle.
West Seattle neighborhoods include:
- The Junction
- Arbor Heights
We know the Eastside isn’t technically Seattle, and that the below spots are cities rather than neighborhoods — but the gist remains.
If you choose to expand your search for the perfect new home across Lake Washington, you can choose between extravagant lakefront views, increasingly affordable inland options, proximity to Microsoft and other tech campuses, and more — all while maintaining the flexibility to travel to and from Seattle proper using the 520 bridge or Interstate 405.
Eastside neighborhoods include:
- Mercer Island
[Related: Important Tips for Millennial Homebuyers]
Seattle Insider Tips
So, you’ve found the perfect home in your ideal neighborhood. Congratulations!
Now what? No one loves to feel like the new kid for too long. Here are a few insider tips to help you settle in and start living like a local.
Local News Sources in Seattle
Seattle’s most prominent daily paper is The Seattle Times. Local news, current events, business, technology, sports, entertainment, real estate, and lifestyle coverage can be found every day either online or by picking up a print issue around town. For regular access to online articles and exclusives, you’ll need a subscription.
More local, national, and global daily news coverage is available via the Seattle-Post Intelligencer at SeattlePI.com.
If you’re looking for something a bit more liberal, hip, and arts-focused, check out Seattle’s alternative bi-weekly newspaper, The Stranger.
The Stranger (available free in print and online) covers everything from local elections, movie and theater reviews, interviews with people in the community, horoscopes, and advice columns. The general rule of thumb is, if you’re looking for something cool to do that’s off the beaten path — check out The Stranger’s events calendar. You can even filter by neighborhood.
More go-to Seattle news sources below:
- Ballard News Tribune
- Capitol Hill Times
- Queen Anne & Magnolia News
- West Seattle Herald/White Center News
Broadcast news stations:
- More TV news channels
- KEXP: 90.3 FM (Diverse music programming)
- KUOW: 94.9 FM (Local NPR station)
- KNKX: 88.5 FM (Local NPR station)
- KBCS: 91.3 FM (Bellevue College programming)
Things to Do in Seattle
As long as you’re here, you’re sure not to run out of things to keep you busy. Something is always happening in every corner of the city. Here are a few resources to help you keep track of it all.
Browse these and more to find nearby activities and events to keep the whole gang entertained:
- Stranger Things to Do (The Stranger staff’s calendar of local art and culture happenings)
- Seattle’s Child (Family-friendly news plus activity and event roundups)
- Visit Seattle (All the must-see’s and do’s for tourists and new residents playing tourist)
- Seattle events calendar (A conglomeration of public events around the city)
You can also refer to the individual events calendars curated by The Seattle Times, Seattle Metropolitan, and more local news sources.
The More You Know…
Check back for updates as we add to this guide. From all of us at Seattle Mortgage Planners, welcome to Seattle!