Amazon’s explosive growth has contributed to a glut of luxury apartments in Seattle, and now landlords are offering renters free Echos and gift cards

  • A number of local leaders and residents of Seattle say that Amazon’s growth has contributed to rising rents and an apartment-construction boom.
  • The Seattle Times reports that the city is now seeing a rise in vacant apartment units, including in the neighbourhood of Amazon’s headquarters.
  • Landlords are trying to entice prospective renters with freebies like Amazon Echos, gift cards, Uber credits, and rent.
  • Landlords in other US cities are trying similar tactics.

Since Amazon planted itself in Seattle in the late 1990s, the tech giant has helped spur a flourishing tech industry in the city. Today, more than 40,000 employees work at Amazon, now the metro area’s largest employer.

But as Amazon continues to attract thousands of tech workers – many reaping high salaries – Seattle’s housing stock has struggled to keep up with demand, contributing to rent increases. (The average rent for an apartment unit in South Lake Union, the neighbourhood that houses Amazon’s headquarters, is now nearly $US2,200, about 4.9% higher than this time last year.)

In the past few years, Seattle developers have started building a record number of apartment complexes, leading to a new problem: Some landlords can’t fill them.

Forty per cent of all brand-new units across the region are sitting empty, meaning 5,000 units have never been lived in,according to The Seattle Times’ Mike Rosenberg. Downtown, 26% of all apartments are vacant. And in South Lake Union – where Amazon’s growth has contributed to a doubling of the neighbourhood’s apartment stock in four years – 14% of all units are empty.

Rosenberg speculates that this could be because renters can’t afford Seattle’s rising rents, or because developers simply built too many high-priced units.

To entice renters, some landlords are offering free stuff. These gifts have included Amazon Echos, $US2,500 gift cards, waived application fees, gym memberships, Uber credits, and a free month’s rent, according to the Seattle Times.

These kinds of concessions occur in cities across the US. As The New York Times notes, in recent years, New York City landlords have promised everything from gift cards to waived broker fees to reduced rents.

A quick Google search reveals that these perks are not hard to find elsewhere. On Thursday, a management company posted a Craigslist ad for a Rochester apartment with the headline “Free TV When Approved.” Another in Charleston, South Carolina advertises a $US100 gift card.

National Real Estate also reports that, in late 2017, property managers offered free rent to attract residents to roughly one-third of apartments in several cities, including Las Vegas, San Antonio, and Virginia Beach. Perks are less common in pricey cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where landlords typically offer free rent at 10% to 15% of the apartment inventory.

In Seattle, the concessions can’t entirely mask the inflated rents. Even with the free gift cards and Amazon Echos, the rent at many apartment buildings is still over $US2,000 a month.

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