Annie Jacobsen, a fortysomething relocation consultant, bought her first place in 1999 and traded up five years later to an 1,800-square-foot house near Green Lake. Single and with a pricey mortgage on a home that kept serving up expensive repair and maintenance projects, she had an epiphany last winter: “I asked myself, What the hell am I doing here?” Jacobsen says. “Homeownership is stupid for me. I’m done!”

Jacobsen is among a new but growing minority of homeowners who have become “renters by choice,” leaving behind the hassles of owning for the flexibility of renting. Fortunately, she was able to sell profitably and relocate to a rental half her former home’s size in Greenwood. Before she moved out, she held a potlatch gathering—to pass on her belongings ceremonially to friends and family. Owning, she realized, had made her overaccumulate things simply because she had the square footage to stow them.

These days, she’s living simpler—but a year-old relationship has her back in the rental market. She and her beau are looking for a place bigger than her 900-square-foot home to share.

Her preferred neighborhoods: Wallingford, Greenlake, Ballard, or Fremont, maybe Maple Leaf—something north of 520, but not the University District. The pair have only begun the debate about where to live, but one thing’s for sure: Nearly all the neighborhoods she’s interested in have typically had vacancy rates well below 5 percent over the past five years, according to the Seattle apartment research firm Dupre and Scott. Recently, rates have tightened further—especially in Greenlake and Wallingford (2.1 percent at last check). She’s taken to Craigslist and Zillow in the hopes of finding a rental that fits her $1,500–$1,800 budget and is amenable to both her commute (Edmonds) and his (Madison Park). “It breaks my heart,” she says of what she’s seeing for rent. “People are charging a lot.”

Desired Neighborhoods
Greenlake /Wallingford

2012 Median Rental Rate
$1,253

2012 Vacancy Rate
2.1%

2011 Renter-Occupied Housing Units
Greenlake 48% 
Wallingford 58%