For almost exactly the same money, we could rent a whole house in Green Lake or Ballard or even Madrona. The little craftsman bungalow houses are going for about $1800/month.
Bleck, it's one of those things like the job choice where no matter what I do I'm going to regret certain aspects of it. It's actually even more frustrating because here I know that the ideal place is in fact out there, I just have to keep looking and maybe I'll find it, though when you keep looking it costs a lot of time and money, and you lose the ones you've already found because they disappear. Bird in the hand and all that.
For the record, let's do cbloom's guide to Seattle apartment hunting , in the city that is.
WalkScore map of Seattle is pretty cool. Even if you ignore the walk scores it's a pretty good boundary map of the neighborhoods for people trying to learn what's where.
So obviously you start with your craigslist apartment listings . Seattle craigslist doesn't have neighborhood filters like SF does (WTF) but you can search by neighborhood names, though not all posters mark their neighborhood right, so YMMV. Unfortunately, not everybody puts their junk on craigslist.
A lot of people just put "vacancy" signs outside their building and don't seem to list the place at all. Yay. You have to just drive around the neighborhoods to find those places.
There are other sites with listings, but they are mostly garbage. For example, NWSource has a big page but it's super out of date which makes it worthless. Places don't go quite as fast as SF here (in SF they go within an hour of showing, generally if a place has an open house you need to be the first one to show up) - but they do generally go within a few days, so you can just ignore old listings. If a place is listed for more than a few days and hasn't gone then there's something wrong with it.
SeattleRentals has okay listings that are semi up to date.
There are a few big apartment manager companies. They are :
The NW Apts listings are updated by the individual building property managers and generally pretty up to date. (BTW don't confuse NW Apts with the "NW Apts" at NWSource - that's garbage).
Most buildings here seem to have an individual property manager who may or may not live in the building. They usually have other jobs which makes them pretty hard to reach; many of them are only reachable after 6 PM and don't return phone calls. You have to keep calling these people, it's annoying. They will also only be able to show places in the evening so you have to schedule carefully.
In my experience, you can pretty much ignore anything under $1200 ; there's just always something horribly wrong with it for that price. There are a lot of disgusting buildings around from the 70's that you want to avoid. You either want a "vintage" or "classic" building, or a brand new one.
The other tricky thing at the moment is all the construction. You want to be away from the massive condo construction, not just the construction site itself, but also the path that the trucks take to the construction site; it's a never ending stream of semis and dumptrucks that screw up traffic and create a huge racket. This pretty much rules out all of South Lake Union (not that it was in contention anyway).
A quick neighborhood roundup (assuming you want an urban life) :
Capitol Hill : easy access to the 520 for commuting east; walkable, plenty of restaurants and such though most of it is pretty shitty; lots of bums and gross hippies and such on Broadway. East of broadway gets very quiet and residential and nice, it's pretty sweet over there but hard to find availability. West of broadway there are many streets full of apartments, some of them are nice, most are nasty, and there's projects and halfway houses and stuff mixed in which add some unsavory characters. The south end of Broadway is actually the happening part these days, around Pine/Pike you've got the hipster bars and some good music clubs like Neumos. There are various busy artery streets around Cap Hill that are undesirable, the tree lined streets east of broadway are ideal. Cal Anderson park is a bit like Dolores.
First Hill : the actual main first hill area which is around the medical center is horrible. There's no life and there's also a ton of construction right now. Some maps consider the Pine/Pike area west of Broadway to be part of First Hill, and that area is pretty good, but not a lot of rentals available.
Belltown : giant condo towers; the units in these are outrageously expensive and super tiny, one bedrooms are generally 700 square feet or less. The good restaurants are generally around here, but you can just cab in to them, no need to live here. The people who live here are mostly douchebag frat boy prep types and trashy girls. The streets feel super dead and weird. It's weird, there must be a ton of people down here in all these giant condo buildings, but they aren't on the street.
Fremont : Kind of a cute little neighborhood; feels very isolated, though it's not very far from downtown by car (it is too far to walk). Somewhat rough commute to the east side from here. There are new condos popping up, but they're smaller buildings and it's mostly still houses and townhouses; rentals are much cheaper here, you can rent duplexes and such easily. The actual strip with restaurants and such is just really really tiny, it's like 2 blocks. The crowd is old, lots of kids and strollers. There is a nice organic market.
Ballard : too far.
Lower Queen Anne : one of the days we came over here we ran in to some ridiculous traffic due to some event at the Seattle Center. That's a huge problem with this neighborhood and pretty much rules it out. It took us about 30 minutes to go the 2 miles from I-5 to LQA. I also just never liked the hood for some reason; it's got a small strip of a few restaurants and bars and grocery stores, but just walking around there I don't get a vibe that appeals to me. Shrug. Anyway, there are actually a lot of huge and nice vintage buildings here with nice big units. Mainly you want stuff that's on the lower slope of the hill.
Some other random notes :
SeattleRentals FAQ is actually okay. They detail most of the stuff I've mentioned, and the notes on the market seem right to me.
WA Tenants Union where you can learn about how little rights you have here, other than the right for your landlord to fuck you.
WSDOT traffic maps important for commuters; or just use Google.
RentalGuide Rental Application (PDF) - I find it really useful to print this out and fill it out before going to rentals, so that I make sure I have all the info I need to fill out applications.
Questions to ask on the phone before bothering to see a place :
What kind of stove does it have?
What floor is it on? (out of how many?)
How many square feet? (850 is the minimum for two people really)
Is there laundry in the building?
What year was it built? (you want old or new, not 60's-80's)
Other minor factors :
Is there parking?
Is the unit away from noise sources in the building like the front door, mailboxes, laundry, etc.
Are the windows double, quiet, or drafty?
What kind of heat does it have? Radiant is best, space heaters are the devil