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New Seattle apartments have shrunk almost 30% in 15 years

Plus: Which neighborhoods have the smallest units?

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone watching new buildings pop up around Seattle, but apartments around here are getting smaller.

15 years ago in 2002, new apartments had an average square footage of 896 square feet, according to census and Axiometrics data compiled by real estate firm JLL. In 2017, that number shrank nearly 30 percent from 2002, at 635.

This is also a 13 percent drop from just two years ago.

That’s the lowest square footage Seattle’s seen in that 15-year time period. The last time we got close was in 2012, with 640 square feet.

Small efficiency dwelling units (SEDUs) and microapartments, a growing piece of Seattle’s apartment framework, are certainly a factor here. The average size of those units is less than 350 square feet, according to JLL’s data. While the price tag might be lower, the price per square foot is higher; in the city core, microunits rent for an average of $5 per square foot, compared to $3.50 per square foot for a conventional studio.

Seattle submarkets with the smallest apartments

Submarket Average SF
Submarket Average SF
Greenlake/Wallingford 569
ID/Pioneer Square/Beacon Hill 578
U District 592
Central Area 593
Capitol Hill/Eastlake 617
Rainier Valley 624
Ballard 689
North Seattle 691
West Seattle 695
Magnolia 698
JLL

JLL’s data brief largely attributes this to millennials. “Millennial renters value location and accessibility over square footage,” reads the brief. “Large kitchens and entertaining space such as a living room are no longer necessary when exciting restaurants and bars are just outside your apartment.”

We asked: Do they really not care about having a living room? Or is it just less of a priority when trying to find something they can afford in the current housing market?

JLL multifamily senior research analyst Kiki Boone said that there are a “number of factors” here. She does think millennials are a part of this: millennials started renting around 10 years ago, give or take, and as more millennials enter the market, apartments keep shrinking.

That’s not limited to studios and smaller or open one-bedrooms that would be sought out by someone trying to save money on rent, said Boone. Apartment sizes are shrinking across the board. “So not only are the studios and one-bedrooms getting smaller,” explained Boone, “but the ‘larger’ one-bedroom and two-bedroom floor plans are smaller than they used to be, and they make up a smaller percentage of the market than they previously did.”

“Millennials aren’t causing this shift,” said Boone, “but this is the first generation that is [accepting] small units as the new norm. So until a generation refuses to rent the tiny apartments, and moves to the suburbs for larger living spaces, more amenities and 2 hour commutes, it looks like smaller units are here to stay.”

So which neighborhoods have the smallest apartment sizes? JLL looked at apartments built since 1990, and found that Green Lake and Wallingford had the smallest units, with an average size of 569 square feet.

The International District, Pioneer Square, and Beacon Hill were second, with 578 square feet—this area has some of the region’s tiniest apartments, especially in the ID, but many of them were built well before 1990.

Other submarkets that rank among the tiniest, according to JLL: The U District, Capitol Hill and Eastlake, and the Rainier Valley.