SEATTLE -- Rents are dropping significantly across the Seattle area for the first time this decade, as a flood of new construction has left apartments sitting empty in Seattle's hottest neighborhoods.
The average rent across King and Snohomish counties dipped 2.9 percent in December compared with the prior quarter, according to a new quarterly landlord survey by Apartment Insights/RealData.
Rents sometimes drop by a few bucks this time of year. But the latest quarterly drop is the biggest this decade by far, and amounted to a savings of about $50 a month for the average renter across the region.
In neighborhoods in and around downtown Seattle, the dip equates to an average of $100 in monthly savings for renters signing new leases.
The biggest rent decreases were mostly in the popular Seattle neighborhoods that are getting the most new apartments. Rents dipped more than 6 percent compared with the prior quarter in First Hill, downtown Seattle, Belltown, South Lake Union and Ballard, along with Redmond and the Sammamish/Issaquah area.
Compared with a year earlier, rents still increased 4.5 percent regionwide, but that was the slowest year-over-year growth since 2011 and down from the double-digit increases that became common over the last few years.
The slowdown comes as the number of new apartments opening across the area has hit record levels and has begun to significantly outpace the number of new renters.
More apartments are sitting empty -- particularly throughout downtown Seattle -- giving renters more negotiating power over landlords. And even more new apartments are set to open in 2018, leading analysts to suggest the rental market will keep cooling.
Renters have been waiting for relief for a long time. Rents across the region had soared 48 percent over the previous five years, adding an extra $550 a month to a typical renter's bills. The Seattle area led the nation in rent hikes in 2016 and early 2017, according to Zillow.
But now incomes are rising faster than rents, following a similar trend that had already taken place in other big cities over the prior few years.