The difference between the rental housing markets of Vancouver and Seattle is as clear as night and day.
With a vacancy rate of just 0.8% and prospective renters clamouring over any remotely affordable availability, Vancouver’s rental scene is clearly a seller’s market.
But it is a whole different ball game in Seattle, where rents have fallen year-over-year and vacancies have reached the double digits in recent months — a vacancy of 10.5% within the city of Seattle, and 8.6% across the Seattle region.
The competition is so fierce that landlords are trying to lure renters with free rent over an extended period and gift cards.
A search on Craigslist returns hundreds of available rental properties that offer gift cards and/or free rent upon moving in.
Most listings offer a minimum Amazon or Visa gift card value of USD$500, while some are high as USD$2,000.
And on top of the free gift card, many listings also offer free rent ranging from two weeks to as long as two months, with most listings offering one month.
“Typically in Seattle when a new building opens up with lots of vacancies they do offer move-in specials to try to sway renters over to the building,” Kim Reidy, a senior broker at Point 3 Real Estate and Director of Relocation at the Seattle Rental Group, told Daily Hive.
Reidy says the period between December and February is typically the slowest time in Seattle’s market, so if a building does have vacancies they will most often run a special deal during this time. Sometimes, a discount on the deposit is also added, she says.
“Once we start moving into spring, we will see only buildings that are new with lots of vacancies offering the one to two months free, as most buildings in Seattle are over 94% full,” she added.
Amidst all the competition from newly-constructed units, some older apartments are also having difficulty finding renters.
These conditions have made it possible for some renters to seek upgrades that may be larger, newer, or closer to the city centre, but overall, despite the competition, incentives, and falling rates, the Seattle market remains challenging for affordability. In Vancouver, with a sliver of a vacancy, the prospect of upgrading is far more challenging.
According to Rent Jungle, the average rent for an apartment in Seattle in January 2019 was USD$2,125 per month, with one-bedroom apartments at USD$1,969 per month and two-bedroom apartments at USD$2,754 per month.
A listing for a new 1,045-sq-ft, two-bedroom apartment next to Seattle University and a major hospital has a rate of USD$3,200 per month. But it does come with four weeks of free rent and a $2,000 Amazon gift card.
Another newer property close to the Space Needle and Pike’s Market, a 665-sq-ft, one-bedroom apartment, is listed for USD$2,120 per month, plus two weeks free rent, three months free parking, and a USD$500 Amazon gift card.
If you are willing to make the trek, as with any other major metropolitan area, rents do fall; for example, a 600-sq-ft, one-bedroom renovated apartment south of Tacoma — about one hour away in a car from downtown Seattle — is USD$950 per month and you also get a $400 Amazon gift card.
With all that said, Seattle’s median household incomes, buoyed by tech giants, are far higher at USD$121,000 (CAD$161,000). Contrast this with the median income of USD$56,600 (CAD$75,400) for a Vancouver family.