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Seattle-area rents drop significantly for first time this decade as new apartments sit empty

Mike Rosenberg, The Seattle Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

"Frankly, Seattle is the last of the really big markets to see this (cool-down) trend develop. It's stayed at the top a lot longer than anywhere else," said Greg Willett, chief economist for the rental data firm RealPage.

He cited strong job and population growth as the reason Seattle surged for so long. That demand continues to be healthy, but now supply of new apartments is growing even faster.

Willett predicts rent growth for the next few years will be about 3 percent a year, or similar to inflation, mirroring predictions from Zillow and other websites that track the local market.

Renters, developers take notice

Developers and banks that lend money for new construction have taken notice of the market cooling. While tons of new buildings are already approved or under construction now, the pipeline for future projects that exist only on paper is shrinking.

Greg Smith, CEO of developer Urban Visions, said he just turned down an offer to build a new high-rise because construction costs have risen so much and rents are no longer keeping pace.

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"New projects don't make sense -- they don't pencil" out, Smith said. "Most banks are aware of that now and are very, very cautious about the amount of debt they'll put on a property. There's definitely a change that has occurred. Some fellow developers are stepping back and saying, 'I'm not developing now.' "

For renters, it's still no picnic out there. But several renters who have been looking for apartments recently said they've noticed things at least weren't as bad as they used to be.

Katie Zacharkiw said she just signed a new lease Wednesday, and got the first apartment she looked at.

"I ended up at a one-bedroom in Wallingford for $1,400 month, which I'm still a bit shocked about," she said, noting she expected to pay $1,500.

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