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Big spike in apartments with A/C as Seattle gets warmer, landlords launch ‘arms race’

Seattle is still the least air-conditioned place in the country for renters, but new apartments built in the last several years are four times more likely to have central air than older ones.

As Seattle summers keep getting hotter and hotter, a once-unthinkable perk for renters here has become more commonplace: air conditioning.

Traditionally, there hasn’t been much of a point for local developers to spend the extra money to install A/C: Seattle has among the coolest summers in the country, and new construction was rare enough that new buildings didn’t need extras — they stood out just for being new.

But now the record apartment construction boom sweeping the city has created what some in the industry have called an “amenities arms race” to attract tenants.

Things like rooftop decks, gyms and dog play areas are a dime a dozen. Now A/C has become a way for landlords to stand out in a sea of apartment ads.

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Before this decade, only 6 percent of all rentals in the Seattle metro area had central air conditioning, according to Census statistics— the lowest rate for any major region in the country.

But 25 percent of apartments built so far this decade in greater Seattle have central A/C — a four-fold increase over the old days. (These numbers don’t include the cheaper window units, but those are on the rise, too — more on that later.)

Megan Murphy, a senior manager at one of the biggest developers in town, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate, said that just a decade ago the company never would have even considered including A/C in its buildings. But now it’s standard for all apartments in Vulcan’s new high-rises, and comes included at many of the units in its smaller projects.

“I don’t think it’s a fad, I think it’s probably going to be a new normal, because it is getting warmer,” Murphy said. “Now it’s becoming more competitive, as well…

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