Meet Your “Moving To Seattle” Guide – Emily Cressey
I’m a native “Seattleite” and I love it here. I grew up kind of a tomboy, playing sports – varsity track, cross country, basketball, going to the public schools and then private school for high school. Went away for college to North Carolina – which I loved and that’s where I started investing in real estate – and then after I got married to an IT guy, I dragged him back here to join Seattle’s ranks of moss-backed, web-toed Sasquatch-hunters. And now I live close to my parents and sister – we all live in the North Seattle neighborhood of Shoreline, Washington.
Is Seattle Built Around The Pike Place Market?
Many tourists who come to the Seattle, WA area have seen pictures of the colorful and eclectic Seattle Pike Place Market. The market is the location of several famous companies original headquarters – this is where the first Starbucks got its start (You can still visit their Ground-Zero original location, but you might have to wait in line to get in! The Market was also made famous in an MTV “Real World” show, and everyone loves seeing the flying fish that vendors throw around after a lucky customer orders a whole fish to be shipped to your door.
Locals, however, don’t spend quite as much time at Pike Place. After moving to town, you may never see it again!
If you live or work downtown, it can be a fun place to go for lunch, to grab a stunning bouquet of flowers or pick up a local delicacy or handmade craft for a gift. Most of us who aren’t anchored to downtown, don’t make it down to Pike Place unless we’re hosting out of town visitors and want to show them the sites.
If you love farmer’s markets, you’ll be glad to know there are many other options that run seasonally in the suburbs from Edmonds to Kent.
Seattle, WA: A Vibrant Place to Call Home
Pros of Living In Seattle, WA
Many people have different “favorite things” they love (or love to hate) when it comes to living in Seattle.
Here are a few of the best things to know before moving here:
- Big and Diverse Economy, so as jobs shift, there is still solid employment and we tend to be pretty insulated from shifts in any one industry
- No income tax. This is one of the 7 states with no state income tax. But we do have a 10% sales tax.
- Great access to outdoor lifestyle – hiking, skiing, kayaking, boating/fishing,
- Laid back atmosphere.
Cons Of Living In Seattle, WA
After seeing the longer “Cons” list – you may think I’m trying to talk people out of moving here. Not at all! I just want to make sure you know what you’re in for so you don’t have any bad surprises after you arrive. Most of these are not “new” ideas – you can encounter similar concerns in any big city. But if any of these stand out to you as big worries, let’s have a talk before you decide “For sure” about moving here and whether it’s right for you.
- Tight On Space
- Bad Traffic
- Seattle: Blending City and Suburb (but not rural) Spaces
- Urban Decay – Homelessness, Graffiti, Crime, Drug Use
As you can see by looking at the gray areas on the map of Seattle on this page… those are cities… the “Greater Seattle Area” is a very built-up urban and suburban area. There are a lot of people in a tight space. This presents a certain number of logistical challenges when it comes to living and working in Seattle or Bellevue.
First among these is traffic congestion. During rush hour, nearly everyone is traveling along the I-5 or 405 corridor. 405 is the Bellevue-side loop of I-5 that goes around the East side of Lake Washington.
405 addresses its potential for traffic problems with variable-rate toll-lanes which are tracked by license plate number or an on-board tracker in your car. The toll for traveling varies depending on how long you want to drive in the toll lanes, and how busy the road is at that time of day. The rates increase during rush hour, and the goal is to always have traffic flowing freely for the drivers willing to pay for the privilege. Others are stuck crawling along in the free lanes.
I-5 (the north-south freeway that runs from Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon and California) does not have any toll lanes. It addresses rush hour with a set of reversible lanes that run through downtown to increase freeway capacity. During the morning commute, the lanes open allowing more cars INTO the city. At lunch, the lanes are closed and manually reversed. In the afternoon, the lanes are set to allow freer traffic movement out of the city. The lanes are primarily to the North of Seattle, running from downtown Seattle to Northgate – 110th Ave NE.
Because we’re trying to fit so many people in such a small area, constrained by water and mountains, Seattle is a very built-up area. It’s hard to get large lots near the city for under a million bucks. For affordability and traffic-reduction purposes, the urban planners are leaning toward a high-density model which encourages builders to go UP instead of OUT and much of our new construction in the city limits is in the form of condos or 3-level townhouses.
What Can People Expect The Seattle Culture To Be Like?
Have you heard about the “Seattle Freeze”? It’s a term coined to reflect that people here are more stand-offish, probably because they’re shy and on their devices. Many Seattle-movers who hated it here reported that it was hard to meet people. Seattle is perfect for Introverts like me who enjoy drinking coffee and reading books in the rain. If you’re a big people person, you’ll need to put some effort into finding some activities, but it’s definitely doable.
In the South, where I went to college, people were more in your business, helping, connecting, but also sometimes very participatory or expecting you to participate in things, church, PTA, stuff like that… Not so in Seattle.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, lots of people are discovering themselves, expressing themselves, trying different lifestyles and philosophies. You don’t see as much of the traditional values like folks holding the door open for others, or giving up their seat on the bus for a pregnant lady.
Born Here: 30%
Out of State: 50%
Out of Country: 20%
Everyone’s Most Burning Question Answered: What’s The Weather REALLY Like In Seattle?
You’ve heard it rains all the time in Seattle right? Well, that’s only partly true.
It really depends on what time of year you’re here and what you would consider “rain.”
According to some, our outstanding Seattle weather is our best-kept secret. In fact, my father says that the Seattle summers are the best summers in the world. I don’t argue the point.
If you’re a gardener like I am, both you and your plants will love our warm, dry summers. We are a temperate USDA Zone 8. Perfect and easy!
Many people call our summer weather “Mediterranean” – like what you might experience in Italy, the South of France, or Greece… That sounds pretty good, right? Summer high temperatures are frequently in the 70’s. A “hot” day is 85 degrees. Now, I will point out that there are not too many outdoor pools or swimming here, but we can go out and enjoy outdoors all year round. When it gets really warm, we drive 15 minutes to Lake Washington, or 15 minutes to Puget Sound and dip a toe in the water. Running through outdoor sprinklers or going to municipally-sponsored “splash parks” is also a popular (and free) activity for families with young children.
BUGS: Most people find there are very few bug issues here. Animals like mosquitos, flies, and ticks are not really on my radar or a part of my life. In my experience, they are almost never a problem unless you’re a “bug attractor” like my sister. Some say that whether bugs are drawn to you has to do with your blood type. If mosquitos love you – you already know who you are – but “planning around mosquitoes” has never been on my radar here. For example, I didn’t know about screened porches or why any one would want one when I first saw them after traveling to other states.
WINTER: In the winter, the weather’s not so fabulous, but it’s not horrible either. The low temps are usually in the 40’s-50s’ a cold snap would be several days in a row with frost when you wake up.
SNOW: It snows maybe once or twice a year. We get 2-6 inches. Everything shuts down. No school, no work, limited bus service.
So, RAIN – you were asking about rain…
You’re secretly waiting for me to tell you how much it rains….
We actually don’t get all that much rain here. It rains maybe 38” per year. But it’s not the heavy, pounding rains that you get in the SouthEast or the Midwest. When you go out in the rain, there’s occasionally a quick shower, but mostly, it’s just sort of dripping or drizzling intermittently throughout the day and that can make it cloudy and overcast.
The clouds are really more the problem. Some people actually get “SAD” – Seasonal Affective Disorder – which is a type of depression from not enough light, so you can combat that with light therapy, or an infrared sauna like I have in my house, or just go outside every day, rain or shine, walk your dog, roll up your sleeves, take off your sunglasses and get some sun on your skin. We call sunbathing getting our Vitamin D allowance, and a lot of people here take supplemental Vitamin D since there’s just not as much light during the winter. On the plus side, we don’t have as many wrinkles and sun damage on our skin! 😊
Cost Of Living: What You Should Expect Buying A House When Moving To Seattle, WA
What are the price ranges for condos, single family homes?
To buy something in the Seattle area, you’re going to be looking at condos starting at around $300K. You can find some for the mid-$200’s, but they are going to be pretty low-quality, like a rental-quality home. You can get a nice 2-bedroom condo in Kirkland, by Bellevue/Microsoft for $300K or you can get a downtown Seattle 1-bedroom on Capitol Hill for that price range.
Free-standing homes are going to start around $400-500K in South Seattle, down near the airport and closer to Tacoma.
Popular/new 2,000 square foot 3/2 homes in the suburbs are going for about $700K+ right now.
The Median Price range in King County is $680K this month and rising.
In Snohomish County (Everett) it’s about $550K
Pierce County: $450K
Once you get into the million plus range: you’re looking at a price range for most people’s second or third residence… a “move-up home” for most people, or a new-construction property straight from the builder. $2-3 million is what I would consider a luxury home – some of the most prestigious neighborhoods, gated communities, 4,000 sq foot new construction homes, etc.
If you’re looking for something cheaper you can always rent, but most residents find that when they go down that route, rent goes up over time and houses get more expensive, and it makes it harder to get into a property. Buying a condo or townhouse you can afford may be a better way to keep up with the real estate market while still sticking within your budget.
What we don’t have a lot of is acreage, rolling estates, big yards, horse property – that is hard to find within an hour of the city centers. You have to go out into the country for that, and even those plots are getting bought up by builders now, if they’re not a wetland, they’re getting bought up.
If you want to build something, the price of land, here in Lake Forest Park, an urban lot on my street is selling for $300K, and it has wetlands on it, so you can’t even use the whole property. You can build a 3-story single family on it that will be worth about $1.2 million when it’s done.
And while you’re deciding how much money you need to have to move to the city and buy a house, don’t forget to add in your closing costs, which you can estimate using a closing costs calculator online. You can also talk to a local Seattle Credit Union to get an idea of rates for buyers in this area.
How Competitive Is The Real Estate Market In Seattle?
Seattle’s housing market has been a challenge for buyers for most of the lat 40 years (my lifetime) because of our historically strong appreciation rate and “Seller’s market” dynamics. Pre-2022, there has been lots of competition amongst first-time homebuyers who want something nice and low maintenance. The average days on market was only 6 days in this area, so most houses are being sold with an “Offer Review Date,” although some are being snapped up early. And we’ve seen homes go for 10-20% over asking with 20-30 bidders.
Now that interest rates are starting to go up, we are seeing a slowing in the market. We can only guess what the economy will hold in years to come. Make sure you reach out to us before your move to Seattle, WA – we are licensed real estate agents, and we can help you get an up to date idea of what’s happening in the market at the time when you read this.
The condo market has been slower. They have an average of 21 days on market, and the luxury home market is slower, too. One strategy some agents out here are starting to use is only looking at properties that have passed their review date. We look at the dregs -whatever didn’t sell. I had a client who we snapped up a condo that way for 5% under asking price in a hot market, because the listing didn’t have good photos, it didn’t show well, it smelled like pot when I first went there, and it was just sitting, so we were able to be aggressive and got a good price.
We looked at another home with different clients two days ago and this home was in the prime price range that we’d been looking at, and that didn’t sell in its first 20 days. We took a look at the carpet was trashed. Otherwise it was a nice house, but the carpet was stained everywhere so whoever had come in would have to replace all the carpet.
This is why, when folks are selling it’s really important they coordinate with their real estate agent, like you, Clara, on how they are going to prepare the home for sale so that it can be marketed, because even in this hot market, this home should have sold for $720K like the one next door, but it was just sitting listed for $650K because they weren’t marketing it and staging it well.
I’m working on a listing with another broker in my office, and the seller had two dogs and just hadn’t been taking good care of the home while he was there. So, we had to pull out all the stops, professional cleaning, new carpet, pro photos, landscaping, there was a lot that needed to get done to get this ready to sell, but now it shows great and it’s going to sell this weekend.
Seattle Property Taxes
What is the property tax rate on the homes?
0.93% – That’s just under 1%, so if the assessed value of your home is $500K, your taxes will be a little less than $5,000 per year. More like $4650
If the assessed value is a million, the taxes will be a little less than $10,000 per year.
Public Transportation in Seattle
How is the transportation? Is it walker, biker or commuter-friendly?
Here’s the good news. Seattle has a great Bus System, very efficient, if you can get to the freeway and find a park-and-ride, you can zip downtown from almost anywhere. Some of the suburbs have bus access through the surface streets too, but there are more stops, so that can be a little slower than just 2-3 stops along the freeway and then non-stop into the city.
We are also putting in a Light Rail System. This has been a big project in terms of tax dollars from the residents, and time for the builders. Right now the rail goes from SeaTac Airport North through downtown Seattle and up to the University of Washington. They’re extending it to Lynnwood now, so we’ve seen a lot of development in that area and new construction, it’s all high density near those areas. Next it will go up to Everett.
We also have a new commuter train called the Seattle Sounder, that runs along the coastline of the Puget Sound . You can go from Edmonds, into downtown Seattle and also down to Tacoma via the Sounder.
The most walkable areas for Seattleitesare around the University of Washington, where there are a lot of students and downtown Seattle/Capitol Hill. This is where we have high-rise offices, and high rise apartments and condos, so you can get to a lot of the areas you need to go by foot and/or bus.
On the East Side – we have a freeway loop around the East Side of Lake Washington Lake Washington that has created new (optional) toll lanes. So you can still drive it for free, or if traffic’s backed up, you can drive in and out of the toll lanes, which have a variable pricing structure, depending on how heavy traffic is, to keep those lanes moving quickly.
What Are Seattle Schools Like?
Here in the Seattle area, attending public schools has pretty much been the “norm” for residents for many decades. As public schools become more politically-contentious and more “tech money” comes to the area, I expect to see an increase in private school enrollment. Nevertheless, many wealthy people plan to send their kids to public school, and buy a house near strong public schools with this in mind.
A great place to go to see an interactive map of the rankings of public schools in the area is Great Schools.org. There you can enter a city or zip code and see the schools on the map, as well as a numerical score evaluating your options. There are many schools scoring an 8, 9 or 10 on the East side, but this is also an area where real estate tends to be most expensive.
Overall, I would summarize my findings to say schools are pretty well-rated in the city of Seattle, better in the North than in the South.
Excellent on the East Side.
What Are The Big Employers In Seattle?
Seattle is known as a big tech-hub… sort of a Silicon Valley North. In fact, we get a lot of people relocating here from California.. and they are not always pleased to find our property values have risen nearly as high as theirs…
Below is a list of some of our big employers. But remember, despite the obvious “gorillas” who are the big names, we have a broad and diverse economy. This is a big city with a lot of different employment sectors, and enough diversity to weather the storm well, even if one company has to down-shift due to its falling fortunes.
- Law Firms
- Professional Sports Teams
If I Come To Town To Visit Seattle Before I Move, What Are Some Fun Things To Do?
We love having out of town friends, visitors and clients visit us in the Seattle area. There are always lots of parks and hikes to go to, as well as the beach if they are in town with young children who need something laid back. In addition, there is a must-do list of Seattle tourist attractions which visitors can enjoy year-round. A few of my favorites are on the list below.
- Space Needle
- Pacific Science Center
- Ballard Locks
- Museum of History and Industry
- The University of Washington
- Pike Place Market
- The Arboretum
- Tour of Underground Seattle
- Discovery Park – Magnolia
Frequently Asked Questions About Making The Move To Seattle
- What salary do you need to live in Seattle?
You need… a big salary. I’m not going to say actual numbers because with inflation on our heels, those numbers will quickly get outdated. However, I will report that Seattle, WA has been one of the hardest places for first time home buyers to get established. While you can rent a studio apartment for $1300/month, a 3-bedroom house may run you closer to $3,000 – $5,000 per month, depending on the location.
If you want to buy a home in Seattle, take a look at median home prices, and consider that will probably buy you an older 3-bedroom, 1800 square foot home in the suburbs. Adjust up-or-down according to your taste. In one suburb, that home currently costs $800K. Most lenders will let you borrow about 3x your annual salary, so if you want to buy that median home, you’d want to be making about $270K, combined income.
- Is Seattle depressing to live in?
Great question, and a serious one. Many people who come to the Emerald City, especially if they move to Seattle alone, may find that it IS depressing. There’s a reason it’s so green out here with trees and other plants… it’s because we get a lot of rain. While it’s not “as bad” as Forks, Washington – the fictional home of a covey of vampires trying to avoid direct sunlight in the Twighlight novels, there are a lot of rainy and overcast days. In addition, because we are pretty far north, we get short days and long nights during the winter months. Many people here do experience a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. While you should talk to your doctor if you think this may apply to you, you can counter-act the effects of mother nature by using a full spectrum light or sauna at home, and getting outside during the day, especially around sunrise, to help set your circadian clock and get some sunlight on your skin and eyes. In addition, many doctors here recommend taking Vitamin D throughout the winter or year-round if you are not getting adequate sunlight exposure to make it on your own.
So yes – Seattle CAN be depressing, but we’ve bio-hacked our way out of it, so don’t let that stop you.
- How Much Money Should I Save Before Moving to Seattle?
How much money you need to save to move to Seattle depends on what you want to do once you get to the city. Seattle attracts all types of new movers, all with different budgets. Obviously homeless people come all the time without savings. Rich people come all the time, too.
One of your biggest expenses will be finding a place to live. So you will most likely want to make arrangements for a place to live before you roll up with your suitcase in the back of your car. If you are going to rent a place that costs $3,000/month, you’ll need to save a first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit. So call that $7K.
Ideally, you would also have a job before you come, or you will run through your savings very quickly.
Next, I would say save some money for furniture if you don’t have any that you’re bringing with you. I have spent $20K in furnishing an air BnB that was already “Furnished” when I bought it. A bed is $1,000, and you can get a lot of other items “free or cheap” in the city with your local “Buy Nothing” Facebook group, or Good Will, if you are willing to go used. Let’s say you need $5,000 as a furniture budget.
I hope you have a car. If you buy one here, you are going to be charged sales tax so watch out for that. Our sales tax is 10%.
If you’re hiring movers or renting a truck – you’ll want to price that out separately, depending on where you’re coming from.
I would say for most “middle class” budgets, you can make the move for $10-$15K pretty reasonably. If you want to save money – live somewhere cheap. If you can stay with friends or family while you get settled, that is the ideal way to make your move as cheaply as possible.
Good luck and let us know when you arrive in the beautiful Emerald City!
- Is Moving to Seattle a Good Idea?
It is hard for any online guide to tell you for sure whether it makes sense for you to become a “Seattlite.” Some people love it here, and some people hate it.
Things people love about the city are the robust economy, strong employment and education options, and an intelligent, high-earning, tech-heavy labor force. Many also LOVE the natural beauty of the area, and you will glimpse mountains and lakes from almost every freeway drive you take.
Things people hate about the Seattle area are: The weather: it tends to be rainy and gray; The people: Folks who live in the city of Seattle have a reputation for being cold, or in a “bubble.” Some call it the Seattle Freeze. Yes, we can be a little stand-offish at first. It takes an effort to join clubs, go to activities and schedule outings to get to know people.
The politics – love or hate, this is a pretty left-leaning area, and in these politically divisive times, Seattle – which has a reputation for outspoken political activism – can bring this political division to the forefront. We have city council members that are self-proclaimed Socialists, for example.
Another concern of many who live in the city itself is the crime and homelessness in the area – especially nearer downtown and the University of Washington. On a casual drive through the city, visitors are likely to see graffiti, homeless camping in tents, pan-handling and more. On a more careful inspection, or if you go to the wrong place at the wrong time, you can observe daytime drug use, prostitution and public urination. The current mayor is trying to improve policing and enforcement, which were lacking under his predecessor.
What’s The First Step To Take When Considering Relocating?
If you know you are moving to the city or suburbs of Seattle, or it’s just on your “consideration set” but you’re not sure yet, it would behoove you to come for a visit to see what you think, in person.
If you’re still doing a little preliminary research, feel free to check out my many “moving to Seattle” videos and neighborhood tours on my YouTube channel – HomeProAssociates, so you can get an idea of what the flavor is in the different areas you may be considering.
Would you have a relocation guide of sorts?
Yes – We do have a Seattle Relocation Guide to help You Get Oriented.