A housing economist says a decrease in Seattle rent prices suggests that tenants are moving to surrounding cities.
As of December 2020, Renton, Kirkland and Bothell have all seen relatively marginal decreases in median rent when compared to the much more significant nearly 20 percent decrease in median rent growth that Seattle has experienced. For example, rent prices in Renton have been decreasing by 0.8% month-by-month and have decreased by 3.3% since the beginning of the pandemic in March, according to a report by Apartment List.
Other cities around the Seattle metropolitan area such as Tacoma, Federal Way, Everett, Auburn and Lynnwood have even recorded increases in median rent price.
Housing economist Chris Salviati said it is hard to “disentangle” what is causing Seattle’s sharp rent price decrease in contrast to more gradual decreases and even some increases that adjacent cities have seen over the course of the pandemic.
Salviati estimates there are two major factors at play, the first being the ability to work remotely.
“A person’s housing choice is very closely intertwined with their job choice,” he said.
Since the pandemic began, those who could work from home likely have been, giving some additional lifestyle flexibility to those who can work remotely.
Requiring only an internet connection to be able to work expands the choices of where someone could live without worrying about the length of their commute to work, Salviati said.
In addition to a newly realized ability to relocate out of the city, Salviati believes the sudden economic hardship created by the pandemic and the shutdown of the big-city lifestyle likely gave people a reason to leave Seattle for a smaller neighboring city.
Salviati said a similar decline in median rent prices can be observed in other large cities like Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. He said all of these areas were already relatively expensive places to live.
Before the pandemic, there was additional value to living in an urban apartment or something similar. Cities had restaurants and venues that attracted people, and landlords knew this because the luxury of being close to these city attractions were built into the cost of rent.
But now these attractions in the city are closed, and Salviati said tenants may no longer wish to pay the big city “premium” to live close to things they can’t access.