It is far too easy to treat the 2020-2021 renting cycle like any other year, especially in a high demand city like Boston. In reality, supply of apartments vastly outweighs the demand, and we've done the research to give you the upper hand in the renting process.
Note: These tips typically do not apply for units available September 1st. For leases starting in September, all bets are off and demand is super high.
1. Apartments "Available Now" or in the next 1-2 months will typically be the best deals you can find
Landlords typically drop rent by $50-150 per month of vacancy. If you’re not in love with a place, don’t lock in your rent months before your move in date. Look for apartments available "now" or 1-2 months in advance on Zillow or Apartments.com. This will give you a huge selection of quality apartments to choose from! For the most part, these units have been on the market for a while and most likely have already gone through several price drops. Normally in Boston, this could be a bit risky, however with a massive number of people moving out of the city and most colleges going remote, you should have far too many apartments to choose from. Don't wait until the very last minute, but definitely don't look in January for an apartment available in May.
Prices have dropped 7-10% since this time last year, and renters STILL aren't biting. Less competition gives you leverage in the renting process, and it's best you use it.
2. When appropriate, try to negotiate a little.
In many scenarios, landlords are taking a big hit due to the lack of demand. Luckily for them, you're serious about their apartment and they're ready to stop the bleeding. Since you have dozens of apartments to choose from with little competition, you have leverage to negotiate your price down, and you should use it.
Because many apartments have been vacant for so long, landlords are eager to be flexible in order to fill it. In the off-season, 3-5 bed apartments might get between 3-10 leads per month with varying levels of interest. Compared to prime time September 1st leases in Boston... some apartments can get MORE THAN 100 inquiries per month. Obviously, some locations are much more sought after than others, but if you’re considering neighborhoods where there isn’t a crazy amount of demand like Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Brighton, or even East Boston, you definitely have leverage on your side. Same goes with overpriced neighborhoods like South Boston or the South End. While there’s more demand there, not everyone can afford a 3 Bedroom at $4,000/month. Make sure to be respectful and come forward with realistic offers. In the right scenario, landlords could be able to knock $100-500 off the price (depending on how many bedrooms you're looking for).
When you can, try to get out of realtor fees. To those looking at Boston for the first time, yes, unfortunately it is very common for landlords to make you pay realtor fees along with 2-3 months rent just to move in. Yes, even if all the realtor does is open the door for you during your tour. Crazy right?! At least nowadays, that's not always the case. Some rental companies allow you to skip the realtor fees all together
3. Flexible leases are an option and you should pursue them
Many students, and young professionals moving to the city for the first time looking for housing normally have had to bite the bullet and sign a full year lease. Then, once summer rolls around, they’re forced to scramble to find a sublet to take over their lease, which is not always easy.
Depending on when you’re planning to move out, landlords may be very willing to sign a 4-8 month lease. If you’re not able to negotiate or find roommates on your schedule, companies like SplitSpot offer flexible rolling leases with 4 month minimums and minimal up front costs for just the occasion.
If rental companies don’t offer what you want, you can always try to negotiate with a realtor and/or landlord. Leases starting in January, June, August, and September (especially September) are in high demand across Boston. If you moved out at the end of August, the landlord has a very high chance to fill your apartment in September leaving them with a very low chance of vacancy for the next year, and potentially years to come. Unfortunately, if you go through a realtor (and not a rental company) when negotiating a flexible lease, you’re most likely going to pay 2-4 rental payments up front INCLUDING realtor fees.
4. Compare the rent to the average cost of apartments in the area
First, before you hyperventilate when looking at Boston rental prices, get an understanding of the quality of apartments in the neighborhoods you're looking at. A luxury apartment in Back Bay will not even be in the same ball park as a luxury apartment in Dorchester, but a luxury apartment in Dorchester could in fact be cheaper than a below average apartment in Back Bay.
Now that you've taken some deep breaths and are ready to do a deep dive on the market, check out these numbers:
Back Bay is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Boston. You might find some deals, but you can always find some roommates to match up with to make it a tad more affordable.
Brighton is by far not the nicest or best-located neighborhood in Boston, but oh boy do those prices make it worth it. With similar prices to Dorchester and Jamaica Plain, you get a ton more room at a great value. You'll still be able to commute into Boston easily from most locations, and save a TON of money in the process. Consider a 3-4 bedroom unit to get the BEST deals here.
Charlestown is super nice with such an easy commute downtown; however, the prices reflect that. You could get lucky with a 1-2 Bed unit closer to $2000/month, but it'll be tough to seek those out.
Dorchester is still a nice neighborhood despite the reputation! The closer to South Boston the safer. You can't beat having Red Line access with these prices. You can often find prices cheaper than this here.
Jamaica Plain (JP for short) is an underrated neighborhood to say the least. While being a family area, you'll get some really lovely apartments here off of the Orange Line.
A great spot for Longwood Medical workers, Harvard Medical School students, or NEU undergrads, Mission Hill is a bit hard to navigate. We've selected some awesome apartments for you in the best locations.
Trendy to say the least! Southie has a ton of apartments, but only some really make the value worth it. Wouldn't it be great to have a beach front property IN Boston?! We think so too.
5. Consider living with an extra roommate (or two)!
Moral of the story, you're better off sharing an apartment or getting an extra roommate in order to make your budget work. Doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but these 1-4 bedroom numbers will help you weigh your options. Even in the South End, if split evenly 3 ways, you'd end up paying an average of $1,166/month instead of just under $1,500/month per person in a 2 Bed, which during COVID times is pretty much highway robbery when you consider all the up-front payments you'll be forced to make.
All said and done, pandemic or not, renters new to Boston face a huge predicament. It's hard to coordinate with roommates and 1 Bedrooms are too damn expensive. Paying 2-3 payments of rent up-front just isn't feasible, and locking in a year long lease is scary and risky.
To those people in a pickle or those looking for a deal, we suggest you check out SplitSpot. SplitSpot gives renters the option to rent private rooms (along with full apartments), and vets your roommates for you. Only pay first month's rent and a small security deposit, and sign a lease for as short as 4 months. Best part? No realtor fees! Don't end up liking your living situation? Move to any other SplitSpot apartment for no extra charge.