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Neighborhood Watch -- Where to Live if You're...You

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to seattle@curbed.com

Despite its homogenous image as a rainy, Starbucks-addicted, grunge-tastic city, Seattle’s neighborhoods are far from uniform. Each Seattle ‘hood seems to have adopted a “If you build it, they will come” attitude, as living arrangements comfortably accommodate everyone from million-dollar mansions with private water helipads to cozy, commune-inspired houses for hippie-hearted Seattleites.

So in order to avoid being the big time corporate suit who mistakenly moves into the unofficial Occupy Seattle headquarters, here’s a run-down of some of the neighborhoods/ areas in the greater Seattle area that will fit your needs.
Madison Park

Madison Park has developed the rep of being the chichi place where downtown dads and soccer moms settle down. Bordering Lake Washington, this quiet neighborhood can look like a picturesque snapshot from a beachy version of Wisteria Lane: perfectly manicured lawns and the occasional white picket fence glistening in front of Spanish villas, sprawling cottages, and resolute New England Tudors. It boasts a surprising number of family-owned restaurants and shops to give the area a complex upscale, small-town feel.

But this is no place for a young, starving artist. In 2009, the median household income for Madison Park residents was $102,599 compared to Seattle’s $60,843. Most renters paid at least $600 more than the average Seattle renter. And these picturesque homes run for an average of $1,266,543.

Recap: Suits looking for upscale, beach-front homes, yes; grungy artists looking for a hipster scene, definitely not.

Columbia City

Columbia City is one of those rare ‘hoods that still blend the small-town, I’ll-water-your-ficus-when-you’re-at-Disneyland attitude of the suburbs and the edge of an urban metropolis. Small, independently-owned shops (with the exception of an obligatory Starbucks) and quaint craftsman-style homes line the cobble-stoned sidewalks and narrow streets. Though the neighborhood is quickly gentrifying, Columbia City is still a vibrant part of the 98118 – the zip code of the most diverse neighborhood in the nation.

This up and coming, working class Seattle neighborhood is ideal for parents with young children who want to live in the quietude of the suburbs, but still be close enough to the city without making the trek an ordeal. The median household income of Columbia City residents in 2009 was $47,128, while renters forked up a mere $650. And if you’re in the market to buy a house for your new family, the average house costs only $339,231 compared to Seattle’s $560,322.

Recap: Families and urban 30-somethings most welcome; women carrying bichon frises looking for a froo-froo salon, not so much.

Capitol Hill:

Calling all 20-somethings, hipsters, party rockers, and “alternative” young professionals – here’s a place to hang your vintage fedora. Just north of downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill is Seattle’s largest and most densely populated neighborhood and a mecca for renters, as it has the largest concentration of rental units in the Seattle area. Both blue-haired artsy types and young Microsoft employees choose to rest their weary heads in one of the hood’s brick façade apartments, condos townhouses, or signature box style houses.

Despite its “alternative” scene, Capitol Hill’s proximity to the downtown area and its vibrant and always-something-to-do nightlife makes living here a tad more expensive than you would think. One bathroom studio apartments are generally around $1000, while the average houses in 2009 were valued at $972,397 – over $400,000 more than the average house in Seattle.

Recap: Hoppin’ neighborhood for single, ready to mingle, young-ish folks with some cash to burn; not so much a scene for senior citizens or stuffy yuppies.

Bellevue:

Okay, okay, so it’s not “Seattle” or even a neighborhood within Seattle. But money talks and so we can’t ignore this shining city across Lake Washington. Home to a wealth of Boeing and Microsoft techies and former pro sports giants like Edgar Martinez, Bellevue is the sixth wealthiest ‘hood in the whole state (says the 2008 United States Census).

The housing prices reflect the relatively affluence of Bellevue residents, as in 2011, the median family income of folks in this ‘hood clocked in at about $106,500 and the average listing price was $652,800. Downtown Bellevue sports a slew of new mid-rise condos and luxury, high-rise apartments. On average, one bedroom apartments run for about $1500.

Recap: A wedgie-free haven for techies and big time professionals; a nightmare for hippies looking for a composting, commune lifestyle.

University District

So maybe you’re a student at the University of Washington who doesn’t want to spend the next year sleeping head to foot in a cramped dorm room with a food hoarding stranger from Nowheresville, South Dakota. Join the likes of about 77 percent of over 42,000 UW students who opt to live off-campus every year to live life the Wiz Khalifa way: young, wild, and free. Instead, a large number of these budget-conscious 20-somethings, artists, and young professionals shack up and lay out their Ikea furniture in the U-District.

This vibrant and always-lively renter-dominated neighborhood caters to the high volume of students (i.e. glorified low-income adults), as median renters in 2011 forked out a mere $830 (compared to Seattle renters’ median rent of $1,100). While the majority of rental units are small- to medium-sized apartment buildings, a number of large, early twentieth homes in the U-District have been converted into room-for-rent houses. You don’t have to be an econ major to know that living in this ‘hood can be a steal, as the median rent for a room in 2009 only cost $582 – over $300 less than a room rental in Seattle.

Recap: An especially perfect fit for college students, artists looking for a scene, and anyone else who often finds himself paying for coffee with dimes; not an ideal spot for senior citizens who are looking for a little peace and quiet (especially not next Phi Beta Sigma – the rage cage).

Belltown

In the past ten years, Belltown has emerged as one of the most fabulous places to live in the Seattle area. But just because it’s within walking distance of Pike Place, the Space Needle, and other downtown touristy hotspots doesn’t mean that Belltown is only cool by association. This ‘hood on Elliot Bay has put itself on the map with its poppin’ nightlife, glitzy restaurants, and quirky shops and cafes.

Understand that although Belltown has been undergone an upscale rebirth of sorts, it still isn’t the Upper East Side. The residual seediness of Belltown’s past is made evident daily, as panhandlers and homeless Seattleites share the streets as much as single, high-tech professionals and moneyed urbanites do. But actual residents of Belltown fork up big bucks to live in one of the many new condos and high-rise apartments in this chic neighborhood. In 2010, the median price for condos in the Belltown area clocked in at $403,500, while condos in Seattle were only $314,000. And in June 2011, Belltown residents looking for one-bedroom apartments dished out $1,750 (median rent list price) compared to Seattle’s $1,150.

Recap: Yes for mostly single, young 30-somethings or empty nesters with dolla, dolla bills to throw around; a big negatory for poor college kids or faux hipsters with no trust fund.