How to Find a Rental Property Before Moving to Seattle

Jan. 22, 2016 Moving to Seattle


You’ve made the decision to move to Seattle, and that is great! In addition to finding the right job (something we can certainly help with), it’s important to secure a place to live. In the Seattle area especially, the rental market is fairly competitive. Houses and apartments will come and go quickly on rental listing sites like Zillow, Trulia, and Hot Pads. Adding to the stress of this fast-paced rent game is the fact that if you’re not already living in (or visiting) the area, you could be in for quite the headache trying to secure a place before you arrive.

The question itself remains: How can someone moving to Seattle find a rental property while they are remote?

1. Know your Budget before Moving to Seattle

It’s important to first establish a budget for yourself. Typically, landlords will like their tenants to have a monthly income that is at least three times the cost of rent, so if you’ve already found employment and know what your monthly income will look like, start there. For example…

Let’s say Parker helped Stephanie find a great permanent Office Manager role in Downtown Seattle that pays $55,000 / year. By dividing $55,000 by 12, we figure out her monthly income is $4,583. Stephanie’s budget for a rental should be at or under $1,527 / month in order to meet the “3 times rent” income requirements typically set by most landlords.

 

If this is not something you can swing on your own, consider looking for roommates already in the area with helpful tools like Roommates.com or RoomieMatch.com; or, if you have family or friend willing to back you, you can look for landlords who would also accept a Guarantor/Co-Signor (someone who would be willing to pay for your debt in the event that you can’t pay).

2. Put Together a Solid List of Needs, Wants, and Properties that Match

Lists are a great way to stay organized – especially during a rental search in a fast-paced area like the Puget Sound. We recommend making a list with two sides – Needs and Wants. Think about what it is that is a priority to you (your needs) and what would be nice-to-have (your wants). Here are some examples:

  • Do you have a dog or cat? Make sure that “pet friendly” is on your NEEDS list.
  • Are you not the biggest fan of hand-washing all of your dishes? Maybe “dishwasher” is a good addition to your WANTS column.
  • Will you rely on a bus, ferry or the Lightrail? Make sure “easy access to public transit” is marked as a NEED.

Once your entire list has been created, try looking on places like Zillow (a Seattle-based company, by the way!) using their filters to find exactly what you’re looking for. You can sort by home type (apartment, house, condo), price, pet friendliness, and number of bedrooms/bathrooms. Zillow also has a draw feature that allows you to map out EXACTLY where you want to look – enabling you to be deliberate and precise with your search.

3. Be Honest with Property Managers & Landlords About Your Situation

Some surprises are great, but in this case, it’s better to be up-front about the fact that you are currently looking at moving to the area. Good rapport with a potential landlord or a property manager can really help build and solidify a relationship despite starting it from hundreds (or thousands) of miles away.

If you don’t have a new job yet, but haven’t left your current job, The Nest recommends asking your current employer and current landlord for letters of reference to provide to a new potential landlord. When speaking to landlords and property managers, present these letters while also pointing out reasons why you’re not “high risk” despite not having a new job yet. These references (and your honesty) could be a great way to develop trust.

4. Strive to Select a Good Landlord

We reached out to the Rental Housing Association (RHA) of Washington, and they provided some great insight regarding what to look for in a landlord. A good landlord is easy to identify, even if you don’t have the opportunity to meet them face-to-face when kicking off the conversation about renting a property.

According to Sean Martin, Director of External Affairs for the RHA of Washington, a good landlord will follow these three basic practices:

  • Promptly returns your call. An owner who calls you back promptly is one who takes their business seriously.
  • Has a screening policy? A good screening policy for all ensures safe neighbors are well-qualified individuals in the community.
  • Presents a clean property. Showing a unit is the best opportunity for a landlord to show that they take maintenance seriously.”

Which brings us to… 

5. If Possible, Try to Visit, but Phone-a-Friend if You Can’t:

Sean touts that touring the property is important, “Take your time viewing the unit, look not just at the size and layout, but also for a well-maintained unit. A rental unit does not need to be updated in order for it to be a quality property, but it does need to be clean and ready for the next tenant. Try to tour as many of the properties from your list as possible until you find one you are comfortable with.”

If you really can’t spend the extra money to visit before moving to Seattle, but you have friends or family already living here, ask them for the favor of touring a few properties on your behalf. With mobile technology like FaceTime and Skype, it should be simple for your friend to dial you in for a digital version of the property tours.

However, if you’re visiting, and you make the decision to go with a specific property, you can instantly start the paperwork, secure your lease, and sleep well knowing that you’ll have a place to call home once you arrive to start a new chapter of life in Seattle.