After months of falling rents, Seattle tenants looking to sign new leases may notice prices ticking back up.
Rents in Seattle increased about 2% in the first 23 days of February compared with the full month of January, the first month-to-month jump since the start of the pandemic, according to data released Thursday by Apartment List.
Among major U.S. cities, Seattle saw the second-highest month-over-month increase, behind only Boston, where rents rose 3%, said Apartment List economist Chris Salviati.
The rise could signal a rebound in Seattle’s apartment market, which for nearly a year has reported price drops for new leases and more frequent special deals like a free month of rent. But it’s too early to call it a trend.
Rents in the city are still down 19.5% compared with the full month of February last year, according to Apartment List. Rents fell in neighborhoods across the city last year, with the sharpest drops in downtown and South Lake Union, according to CoStar, another rent-tracking firm.
This month, the median rent in Seattle is $1,366 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,704 for a two-bedroom unit, according to Apartment List.
A steep drop like Seattle’s can last only so long before tenants consider moving into new apartments to snag a deal, thereby driving up demand, Salviati said. And some may be seeing an end to the pandemic in sight.
“Although we’ve still got a long way to go before life gets ‘back to normal,’ I think there’s growing awareness that the things people love about being in the city — easy access to bars, restaurants, museums, etc. — will gradually start to return,” Salviati said.
Across the metro area, which also includes Tacoma and Bellevue, rents are up 1.4% over last month and down 11.6% compared with February of last year. (Apartment List’s latest February statistics are for the first 23 days of the month, while past months and years reflect a full month’s worth of data.)
Among large buildings, rent drops in Seattle appeared to start leveling off at the beginning of the year, according to RentCafe, which publishes average rents from buildings with 50 units or more. (Because rent-tracking firms use data from private listing sites, the numbers can skew toward newer and pricier buildings.)
Plenty of renters never felt a break.
About 8% of renters across the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area are behind on rent, according to a February survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The share of renters behind on payments is down from between 10% and 16% in recent months, a sign of more tenants getting caught up, perhaps with government assistance. Landlords for large buildings in Washington state have reported a similar trend. State lawmakers are debating ways to fund more assistance for renters and property owners as the end of the state’s eviction moratorium nears.
The opportunity to benefit from falling rents also depends on where you live.
Expensive cities like Seattle saw rents drop in 2020, while rents climbed in areas outside Seattle, including Tacoma, Auburn and Federal Way, according to CoStar. Work-from-home flexibility or unexpected job loss and financial stress have pushed renters to smaller cities, observers say.
Other pricey cities where rents fell last year, including San Francisco and Chicago, also saw increases this month, according to Apartment List.