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Seattle rents drop amid COVID-19 pandemic as apartment incentives increase

Zillow experts say nearly half of Seattle metro rental listings are offering a concession on monthly rent or parking.

Economists say the rental market is changing in ways they haven't seen in recent years. 

A recent ApartmentList report found that rents in Seattle were down 5.6% in November. 

Housing experts are calling this a seismic shift in the rental market. 

Chances are, if you're a renter, you might've received emails from apartment complexes offering two or three months free rent, some are even offering free parking. 

Zillow experts say 49.4% of Seattle metro rental listings are offering a concession. That’s up from 21.5% this time last year.

"2020 was the first time in recent memory that we've actually seen rents fall in the Seattle region. And, in fact, they were falling the fastest in the city of Seattle, where rents are down almost 9% since the pandemic began in March,” said Jeff Tucker, Senior Zillow Economist. 

Tucker said the median rent for a 1-bedroom in Seattle is $1,911, that's down about 6% from March. 

"This is pretty extraordinary, especially for such an in-demand, growing city."

Economists say it has a lot to do with people searching for better value.

”Well-off renters have kind of been leaving to buy their first home, thanks in part to really low mortgage rates, maybe needing a little more space to work from home,” said Tucker.

On the flip side, cities like Tacoma and Everett are seeing rents go up. Zillow data shows rents in Everett are up 1.4% and rents in Tacoma are up 3.1%. 

James Young with the Washington Center for Real Estate at UW studies the changing trends, including the drop in Seattle rents. 

"I would be surprised if they last very long because, you know, when this is over, people are going to be wanting to get back to the city and enjoy the lifestyle,” said Young. 

So, as a renter, what can you do? 

”People often find it worthwhile to try negotiating. Probably a good place to start is to see if your building has a bunch of vacant units. That's a sign that your landlord is probably pretty happy with anyone who is able to stay put,” said Tucker. 

While economists are unsure about how long the drop in rents will last, they suggest renters weigh their options before packing up and moving. 

”We also have to remember that once this is over, the demand comes back, rents may go back up again,” said Young. 

RELATED: Washington courts launch eviction resolution program as moratoriums near end

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