Boston Apartment Hunting Tips
There’s more to finding an apartment in Boston than we could cram into this article… at least without it becoming a small novel. But if you’re looking for more on the topic — or just prefer to watch and/or listen — this video has great advice on how to rent an apartment in Boston.
Boston Apartment Hunting Tip #1: The Early Bird Gets the Pad
If you’ve never gone apartment hunting in Boston before, it can be a little shocking to learn how quickly apartments get rented out. In much of the country, many people start looking for a new apartment roughly three months before their move-in date, with frequent showings occurring the month before.
Try that in Boston, and you’ll be shocked by how little is left on the market, and what apartment you potentially end up renting.
With a real-time apartment vacancy rate consistently under 3% in Boston, you are going to have to get into a planning state of mind to get the best one possible. Most Boston leases run from September to August 31st, and most landlords know if their tenants will be renewing their leases come the new year. To find your perfect apartment in September in the neighborhood you want, you may have to start looking as early as 10 months in advance.
No, really. That’s not a typo.
Every year, the Bostonpads.com network of sites and real-time database watches apartments get posted and rented. You would be shocked at how many apartments are rented nine months in advance of becoming available or longer. In fact, it’s safe to assume that over 70% of all apartments will get rented moret than 3 months before their lease expiration date. There are numerous reasons for this – and it would take several pages to explain all the variables as to why advance renting occurs – but suffice it to say: you either play the game, or get left behind.
Repeat this mantra: the best apartments always rent first! It is virtually always better to be first than it is to be better. Even if you miss a great one and you weren’t ready, the next time you will be more prepared and pounce quicker!
But Why Does it Start in January?
January 15TH is a massive apartment renewal lease notification date for a significant number of landlords that own properties close by Universities. Landlords in Greater Boston have learned to set those dates over time, so that they can make sure their best apartments are rented first, and it gives them time to figure out why perhaps one or more units of theirs is not renting. When you look at it from a property owners’ perspective; it all boils down to common sense.
With the economy on fire and jobs everywhere, a properly priced apartment in Boston should easily rent within one week. Even a slightly overpriced apartment can often rent within one month depending on the time of year. That is why a lot of landlords put out their properties in Jan -they need time to figure out and react to the marketplace.
Most of the time the reason a place isn’t renting is due to how the tenant keeps the condition of the apartment. If a place isn’t renting, it’s time to stop by and take a good look. Perhaps it is being over-occupied and looks messy. Over the years we have heard the horror stories: a landlord showing up to the apartment they rented to three people, that has six occupants when they show up; the place is cluttered and looks run down; the fridge and bathrooms are a mess. Surprise: the place is unrentable.
Landlords hate finding surprises.
Often times messy tenants also leave out food, and that can attract mice and cockroaches which literally bothers everyone in the world so showings go poorly. The landlord then calls a meeting with the tenants – time passes by – the market starts to soften. By the time mid-February rolls around, a solid amount of the top January apartments are already gone. Landlords start getting feedback from agents, and some go on the showings themselves to start figuring out what issues, if any, there are. Many landlords will either reprice the apartment through the help of an agent with a massive database, or tell their tenants to please clean the place up a bit.
This is when great property managers and landlords start up a dialog along the lines of “do you want your place shown until August? Because everyone is going to come look, but no one is going to rent it.”
I think you can start seeing why later product stays on later. Unless events have forced you to move on a shorter time frame, you really do want to be planning eight to nine months ahead. Obviously, there are many more factors to talk about – but the overall thought process of many in the know in real estate is to look early and often! The good news is that once you find an apartment you really love, you can skip the whole apartment hunt in future years. It’s worth getting ahead of the pack to find an apartment you know you’ll love for years to come.
Boston Apartment Hunting Tip #2: In a Sea of Information, Find a Lighthouse
There’s a proverbial ocean of data out there. Online portals, local ads, different realtors: how do you know what to trust? Believe me, we understand. It’s daunting to wade through all the information with no way to know if what you’re looking at is even current, let alone on the up-and-up.
Having someone you know and trust is essential, but let’s be real: how many of us just happen to know someone who can handle all of that for our apartment hunt?
That’s a big part of why we created Boston Pads in the first place: to sort through all the available information so that you don’t have to. We combine cutting-edge technology and local knowledge in Boston’s largest real-time real estate portal, so you can be confident that everything you see is legit.
No dead listings. No shady brokers, misleading pictures, or key decision-makers who’ve never even been to Boston: we’re from the Hub. We know the Hub. And we’ve got more than 166,000 Greater Boston apartments in our database, with over 150 active agents, ready to help you find your dream apartment. Our real time database doesn’t keep up old listings. You will never see a 300-day old apartment listing on our sites like many other national portals. If you see something that just doesn’t seem right – it most likely isn’t correct. Never be afraid to ask the agent how many apartments they are going to set up for the showing – be specific with them. Ask them how they get their data. Ask them how they get their landlords. Ask them how long they have been in business. Details matter.
Even if you’ve got a close friend or family member who you trust to guide you through these deep waters, they can still save time and energy by leveraging the largest real-time database of rental properties in Greater Boston. And for the rest of us, we’ve made sure you’ve got the most current, relevant information on tap when you need it.
Boston Apartment Hunting Tip #3: Know What You Want
Browsing apartments to see what catches your eye can be fun, but it’s also an easy way to get mired in indecision (more on that later). Make a list of your daily routine, and be honest about what’s going to matter. If you love to start your day with an almond milk hazelnut latte, how do you feel about the cafes near your potential new home? This small stuff matters.
The big stuff matters too. Be honest about your wants and needs when it comes to bathrooms, bedrooms, parking, proximity to public transportation, and so on. It often helps to make a list of needs, wants, and nice-to-haves. If it’s not truly a deal-breaker, then it shouldn’t break your deal. Neighborhoods, proximity to T stations, how far your commute is, nearby dog parks: figure out what’s going to matter, and you can get a clearer picture of how the available apartments stack up.
Your agent also matters. Ask your agent how many calls they made that day for you. Ask them who they call – or even if they call? Are you using a proactive real estate agent, or one that sits around the office waiting for listings to come in? Find real estate agents who are fearless and will go the extra mile to get apartment listings for you. Ask them if they have local websites and local Facebook pages and groups that they utilize to get listings from landlords. Ask the brokerage how many keys they have, things like that.
Protip: if they don’t know how many keys they have, that’s a hint that they don’t have a lot of trust from landlords.
Boston Apartment Hunting Tip #4 Know What You Can Afford
As a quick, “back of the napkin” calculation, Bostonians usually spend around a third of their salary on rent. This number can go up or down based on transportation costs, but that’s your rough mark. Divide your household’s annual income by 36: that’s a safe target for what you can reasonably afford in monthly rent. And if you want a no-hassle, visual walkthrough, an online rent calculator makes it simple to figure out what you can afford.
So how do you make your money go farther? Simple: work with an agent who shows you the most apartments, and chances are they will know about the best deals out there – this is a mathematical equation, so make sure the math is in your favor.
Boston Apartment Hunting Tip #5: Consider the Climate
No, we’re not talking about your carbon footprint (though that’s important too): this is about staying warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. Simply put, your budget must account for heating and cooling, for matters of health and safety as well as comfort. Heating and air conditioning are included in plenty of Boston apartments, but if you’ll be paying those utilities yourself, you should consider them part of the rent cost.
Work with agents that aren’t afraid to stop by a construction site and talk to landlords about renting their properties. Many of the best agents will often pull up their local website and show it to the landlord and get listings far ahead of everyone else. Look for real estate agents that are fearless and will work for you. Often times new construction and renovated apartments have the best and newest insulation and provide lower bills!
Find out what those winter and summer utility bills look like, add them up, and divide that number by twelve. Add that number to your monthly rent, and you’ve got the actual cost you’ll be paying. Some bargains might wind up being more costly than they appeared. Some units that appeared to be on the more expensive side of things might actually be a relative steal.
Bottom line: figure out what you’ll actually be paying.
Boston Apartment Hunting Tip #6: Don’t be Afraid of Commitment
Finding an apartment you love is a tricky proposition under any circumstances. But in Boston’s fast-paced housing market, second-guessing yourself can mean letting your dream apartment slip through your fingers. FOMO — fear of missing out — is a real issue when apartment shopping. The thought that something really great might exist somewhere else can lead to indecision, hemming and hawing, and a general desire to keep your options open.
Problem is, this can close off your options faster than you can say “I’m not sure yet.”
We’re not suggesting that you settle for an apartment you don’t actually like, or trying to pressure you into an agreement you’re not comfortable with. The reality of renting in Boston is that agents really don’t benefit from pushy sales tactics: if you don’t rent the unit, someone else will be along to do so shortly. Pressuring you into a sale is a waste of everybody’s time.
We get it: indecision is a real problem when you’re apartment hunting. Features start to blur together, and you can’t always tell what a space will feel like once you move your stuff in. This is why it’s so important to know what you want going in. If the neighborhood works, the apartment checks all of your boxes, and the whole thing works with your budget — but you still aren’t sure — ask yourself what’s giving you pause. If it’s because you genuinely don’t vibe with something, or you like an apartment you’ve seen earlier better, then okay! Those are good reasons.
But if you’re worried that there might be something better out there, ask yourself if that’s rational, or just indecision and FOMO. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and all that: and the longer it takes you to make a decision, the less options you have.
Boston Apartment Hunting Tip #7: Be Prepared
To help combat indecision and capitalize on opportunities, it helps to be able to fill out an application on the spot. You’ll want to have your employment history, credit score, references, and enough funds to cover your deposit, brokerage fees, etc. ready when you visit. That way, if you’ve found your dream apartment, you won’t have to deal with somebody else renting it out from underneath you.
Finding an apartment in Boston can be stressful, but it can also be exciting and fun. With these tips, you should be able to find your dream apartment with a minimum of hassle. If you’ve got any questions, or simply want to work with a real live human in this process, feel free to reach out to us: we’ll get you sorted away in no time.