1. Ballard >> Stealth Urbanites

It’s time to retire the Ballard stereotype of strollers, starter homes, and backyard beehives. Because nearly a dozen new condo and apartment buildings rising along corridors like Market Street and 15th Avenue have changed Ballard’s literal landscape, and its cultural reality. More than 1,000 new apartment units are headed to the neighborhood. Condo buildings like the 20-unit Solo Lofts going in near the library can see the majority of units sold before construction even begins. “There are more people wanting to purchase than there are available homes,” says ­Sabrina Booth, a Redfin agent who specializes in the Ballard area. One of her clients recently lost out on a one-bedroom condo listed for $289,000—after submitting a $300,000 offer. Cash. (The winning offer was for $305,000 and waived inspection.) In a climate like this, buying can be one hell of a mad dash. Booth sees an average of four offers for each property, “especial-ly single-family homes.” Some of those offers come from developers eager to tear down smaller houses and replace them with multiple units, thanks to Ballard’s density-friendly zoning. However Booth says the market madness hasn’t undercut the community feel that drew people here in the first place. “Urban people feel like they’re in a small town; they can support their local businesses and get to know their neighbors.”

25% Owner Occupied
Population: 7,718
Walk Score: 91

Essential Ballard A full-fledged brewery district has rooted itself within the industrial blocks south of Market, where single urbanites and young families sample brews and food truck fare at newcomers like Hilliard’s, Reuben’s Brews, Stoup, Peddler, and Populuxe. 


2. Loyal Heights >> Ballard Bailers

Sweet little prewar houses, proximity to water, a small-town feel within a bigger city: This is the dream of Ballard. And the reason many buyers seeking a home in this part of town end up in Loyal Heights, Ballard’s northerly neighbor just across Northwest 65th. “The further north you go, the prices tend to go down or become more affordable,” says Redfin agent Sabrina Booth. Though prices may drop, the level of competition doesn’t; “there are just as many people going after a $425,000 house” as pricier homes to the south, says Booth. 

While home values in Loyal Heights have jumped nearly 19 percent since 2010, they’re projected to go up just under 4 percent this year—a relatively modest gain compared with other parts of town. The neighborhood began life as a bedroom suburb of Ballard, and that neighborhood’s clamor of taverns and restaurants and boutiques remains within easy reach. But easy access to Golden Gardens Park and local landmarks like the Loyal Heights Community Center hold more appeal for families—more than twice as many kids live here as in Ballard. 

Projected 2014 Median Home Value: $494,200
Population: 7,407
Walk Score: 72

Essential Loyal Heights Some of the city’s most legendary kringle (and a reminder of the area’s Scandinavian roots) can be found at Larsen’s Danish Bakery. Across the street, Cafe Munir serves lively Lebanese mezzes alongside a surprisingly good whiskey selection.


3. Hillman City >> Investors

Rare is the buyer who actually sets out to live in Hillman City. Some people don’t even know it’s a neighborhood. It won’t be this way in a few years, says Redfin agent Collin Horn. “Columbia City has been an up-and-coming neighborhood for a while. As prices start to get higher and more competitive, buyers start creeping south.” Specifically south to Hillman City, with its streets of older single-family homes in need of basic updates. But some of the city’s cheapest single-family homes are about to collide with some of the highest value-change forecasts. Horn says Hillman City looks a lot like Columbia City did a decade ago; now homes in that neighborhood have received some TLC and are on the market once again at higher prices. “Hillman City has so much in common and is so close by, he says. “The price per square foot jumps over $100 as you head to Beacon Hill or Columbia City.”

Hillman City also has one of the city’s highest percentages of kids (nearly a quarter of its residents are younger than 18) and is relatively diverse (more than three-quarters of residents are not white). And some hospitable newcomers like Union Bar and Tin Umbrella Coffee—home to one of the city’s pilot parklets—are giving a main-street feel to the stretch of Rainier Avenue near South Orcas Street.

Percentage of the Population Younger Than 18: 24
Projected 2014 Median Home Value: $350,800
77% Nonwhite

Essential Hillman City Pale ales and porters from the two women behind Spinnaker Bay Brewing, and sustenance from the food trucks regularly parked out front


4. Bellevue >> Eastside Redefiners

There isn’t much mystery in what brings people to Bellevue. The twin forces of the stellar school district and the proximity to Microsoft propel steep competition for homes. “There are a lot of families with kids high school age or nearing high school age who aspire to go to Bellevue or Newport high,” says Findwell’s Kevin Lisota. Including plenty of newly arrived Amazon employees and parents who work in Seattle but are happy to commute across the 520 bridge each day in exchange for having their kids in the schools. The majority of homes sell within two weeks on the market, and the laws of supply (low) and demand (high) apply across ­Bellevue’s relatively varied homes and price points, from ultraurban high-rise condos to 1950s ramblers, ’60s and ’70s split levels, Factoria-area townhomes, and West Bellevue compounds with Lake Washington views that command multimillion dollar prices. The latest influx of tech-savvy workers means a more diverse Bellevue; in 2010, 30 percent of residents were an ethnicity other than Caucasian; today that’s up to 37.

Projected 2014 Median Home Value: $574,200
Median Household Income: $90,459
Population: 128,171

Essential Bellevue Take a free First Friday wander through the Bellevue Arts Museum, then head down the block for soup-filled xiao long bao dumplings at Din Tai Fung.


rain shadow meats squared

Rain Shadow Meats Squared

5. Pioneer Square >> Trendsetters with Leases

What’s playing out in the most historic of Seattle’s neighborhoods is basically an inverted version of Field of Dreams: They’re coming, so build it. The Stadium Place development at Occidental Avenue and King Street is adding 787 new apartment units to a neighborhood that previously had 700, inserting a massive population base into a neighborhood where tech employees roam the brick-paved blocks by day, clubgoers creep in by night, and the stadium-bound teem through intermittently. It’s too soon for actual statistics, but anecdotal reports suggest the people signing leases are older than anticipated, including plenty of empty nesters. Karen True of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, which is shepherding the neighborhood’s transition, believes “retail follows restaurants.” Now that the restaurant boom is well established, residents are hoping for hair salons, a pharmacy, and an outdoor gear store—amenities that make people want to live in a neighborhood in-stead of just getting tipsy there.

Forthcoming additions, the planned Cone and Steiner market and Retrofit Home, are a start. But even if these quotidian services don’t materialize, the First Hill streetcar will soon change from a snarly construction project to a transportation conduit, linking the neighborhood to Capitol Hill.

10% Own /90% Rent
Population: 872 
Walk Score: 97
Transit Score: 100

Essential Pioneer Square A sandwich. Take your pick from the old guard (Delicatus, Salumi, Tat’s, Bakeman’s) and the new (La Bodega, Rain Shadow Meats Squared).


6. Central District >> People Who Can’t Afford Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill’s bar and nightlife scene has spilled across the neighborhood boundary and flows down 12th Avenue well into the Central District. And the same thing is true for Hill devotees who are ready to buy. Single-family home values are significantly lower here…if you consider a nearly $500,000 median single-family-home-value difference between Cap Hill and the CD to be significant. And the neighborhood is just as convenient to downtown and I-5 as its trendier neighbor, says Kevin Lisota, CEO of Findwell Real Estate Brokerage. “There are plenty of older homes with character, but some of them may need a little bit of rehab to bring them up to speed.” Though values are low, so too is supply, and competition is fierce. According to Lisota, more than half of properties sell within 10 to 12 days of being listed; homes are going for 22 percent more than they did during the recession aftermath of 2010, and the median value for a house in this neighborhood is expected to climb 7 percent this year. The Capitol Hill spillover has given residents more bars, restaurants, and shops within walking distance. But all this change comes at the expense—or more specifically the displacement—of the African American community whose culture has defined the area for decades.

Projected 2014 Median Home Value: $495,200
Median Household Income: $54,715
Population: 4,297
Walk Score: 91


Essential Central District A classic ’90s movie, a Manny’s, and a surprisingly good personal pizza at Central Cinema


7. South Lake Union >> Choosy Renters

Amazon has created a bona fide residential neighborhood where there used to be almost none—the number of housing units in SLU has increased eightfold since 2000. The vast majority of residences hitting the market are apartment buildings, planned and approved during condo-wary recession years, and SLU currently has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city, meaning potential residents can shop around and be extra choosy. Megan Murphy, residential marketing manager for Vulcan Real Estate, says Amazon employees make up barely a quarter of the population in her company’s developments, though office proximity is definitely a big deal: At projects like the new Stack House Apartments, roughly 40 percent of residents can walk to work. Units in this part of town come outfitted with lease-inducing features like the rentable community rooms and rooftop gardens. A dedicated dog area is a given.

An influx of bars and restaurants adds neighborhood character, and a new Bartell Drugs gives residents a place to fill prescriptions and buy toothpaste. When the waterfront tunnel project is finally complete, John, Thomas, and Harrison streets will be reconnected across Aurora Avenue, creating an easy pedestrian route between South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne.

Median household income $45,276
17% Own/83% Rent
Population: 1,976
Walk Score: 97


Essential South Lake Union A sailing lesson at the Center for Wooden Boats and a food truck picnic in Lake Union Park, a U.S. Naval Reserve Base turned stunning green space. Watch out for goose droppings.



8. Issaquah >> Outdoorsy Professionals

The school district may be the initial draw for homebuyers in this Eastside hybrid of typical suburban streets, and denser “urban village” communities like the Iss- aquah Highlands. Retail is slowly but surely filling out the Highlands, and it’s easy to put together an entire Friday night’s worth of dinner, drinks, and ­theater without getting on the highway. Come Monday morning, however, many residents are headed for the on-ramp. Redfin agent Janet Erickson says Issaquah’s location on I-90 is especially attractive for dual-­income couples who don’t love the idea of battling the reliably bad traffic on I-405. “One person might work in Seattle, the other might work in Bellevue. Not being stuck in gridlock—that’s the main thing.” Issaquah also boasts a suitably picturesque downtown, two transit centers, and houses slightly newer than the pricier inventory in ­Bellevue. The population density is by far the lowest in the region, perhaps because the town is bordered by one lake (that would be Sammamish), three mountains—known affectionately, if ambitiously, as the Issaquah Alps—and countless trails.

2013 Median Single-family Home Value: $537,300
2013 Median Condo Value: $244,400
Median Household Income: $98,680

Essential Issaquah A paragliding lesson on Tiger Mountain should be “on the Issaquah bucket list,” says Erickson. Stop for a maple bar at the region’s only drive-thru Top Pot Doughnuts on the way.


9. Junction >> First-Timers Without Kids

West Seattleites know this diverse swath of condos, postwar bungalows, and newer townhomes surrounding a strip of bars, restaurants, and shops as the Alaska Junction. It’s a destination for first-time buyers, says Kim Colaprete of Team Diva Real Estate at Coldwell Banker Bain, especially ones who work at Starbucks headquarters in SoDo. “It’s relatively inexpensive close to the Junction, and you even have a chance for some peekaboo Sound views.” Lately she has seen singles, gays and lesbians, and couples without kids ending up here.

Buying in the Alaska Junction doesn’t require the sort of real estate blitzkrieg necessary to have an offer accepted in nearby Alki and Admiral, and yet it offers a most elusive Seattle triple threat—decent walkability to California Ave Southwest (one of the city’s best neighborhood main drags), easy access to parks and water, and median home values below $500,000. “The prices are definitely more affordable, and the inventory is slightly higher than the rest of the city for first-time-buyer price points,” says Colaprete. New construction prices are also gentler than in other parts of town. Living here means you can be on the West Seattle Bridge in minutes, but some buyers are waiting to see how the Alaskan Way tunnel project progresses.

Essential Junction A morning jog at nearby Schmitz Park, promptly undone by a walk to Bakery Nouveau for a croissant

Projected 2014 Median Home Value: $444,900
59% Own /41% Rent
Population: 5,756


10. North Beacon Hill >>First-Time Buyers

Happening on Beacon Hill: an annual neighborhood 5K where running is discouraged and the streets are lined with art installations; a seven-acre food forest being filled with edible trees, shrubs, and other plants for public foraging; a light rail connection downtown. The neighborhood that once kept to its sleepy self has become a quiet cultural force, and a major destination for first-time homebuyers, according to Kim Colaprete of Team Diva. They’re lured by bungalows, midcentury homes, new construction town houses (many with Built Green certification), and “decent fixers” across a range of prices, but mostly in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

“Our folks who love this ’hood are younger and mostly without kids. We also have a lot of younger gay and lesbian folks looking to buy in Beacon Hill,” says Colaprete. Parents-to-be look here for the schools, which Colaprete says are “quite good and improving each year.” The diversity, the access to downtown and even Bellevue via I-90, and a light rail link to the airport, stadiums, Columbia City, downtown, and eventually Capitol Hill are major selling points. The northern end of Beacon Hill is especially appealing these days, thanks to the likes of Bar del Corso, a wood-fired pizza spot that has fans across the city, and reliable neighborhood watering holes like the Oak and Tippe and Drague.

Median Household Income: $51,247
Population: 11,309
Transit Score: 77

Essential North Beacon Hill One Saturday in September, scores of artists line a route through the neighborhood with an entire gallery’s worth of art installations for the Nepo 5K Don’t Run. As the name suggests, participants turn out for the aesthetic intake rather than the cardio.