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Moving to Boston in August!
March 28, 2009 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Help me find an apartment in Boston!

I'm starting graduate school at Harvard this fall, so I need to figure out how to swing this moving thing. I currently live in Brooklyn, so I'm not unused to ridiculous rents and sketchy neighborhoods.

What I'm looking for:

- A studio with a separate kitchen or a 1-bedroom.
- Up to $1200 a month.
- Laundromat and grocery store within walking distance.
- Walking (<20 minutes?) or reasonable T (<45 minutes?) distance to Harvard. I don't have a car or a driver's license.
- A coffeeshop would be nice, but I don't really care about any of the normal hip-white-person amenities (yoga, ethnic food, or whatever).
- Don't care too much about crime either, though obviously less is better. I'm quite flexible as far as neighborhood culture is concerned.

1. Is this doable? I am thinking of living in Somerville or Cambridge, if I can afford it, but I wouldn't mind living in Boston proper or elsewhere as long as the commuting distance is reasonable. What areas would you recommend? I'm trying to avoid Allston, since I've heard it's a fratboy mecca.

2. I'm hoping to move in on August 15th. Is that going to be possible? Would the peak-day of September 1st be better, or should I try for August 1st instead? (If I moved in August 1st, I'd be losing a $500 paycheck, so the advantages need to be substantial.)

3. Looking on Craigslist, I find a lot of apartments in Victorian wooden frame houses. I keep having visions of being forced to tiptoe past someone else's slumber parties and family dinners as I climb to my garret. Are those places designed for multi-family living? Would I be doing myself a disservice if I tried for a brick apartment building instead?

4. I can probably carve out a few days to visit and look at places sometime over the next few months. When would be the best time to do so?

5. Am I better off sticking with Craigslist as a source for listings or do I need to find brokers and stuff?

Any tips you might have are appreciated! (I did read the other questions in this vein, and they were quite helpful.)
posted by nasreddin to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would strongly recommend Harvard's own affiliated housing (described here). I lived in one of their complexes for three years and had a very good experience.

The Harvard Housing office also has private apartment listings.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:59 PM on March 28, 2009


Absolutely doable. I've lived in Harvard Square for the past five years, and in the Boston area for the past 10. Current apartment is $1700 for a two bed. Last was $900 for a one bed. Both of those were in Harvard Square.

Look in Central, Harvard, and Porter Squares in Cambridge, and Davis in Somerville. I've found every apartment I've ever had through Craigslist, but what you'll also see are brokers posting their ads, and you can then go back and check out the other listings they have.

Don't worry about problems in split houses. It's very common up here, and a nice way to live. Most of the apartment buildings in Cambridge are great, too.

Shoot me an email if you have any questions, or want to know about neighborhoods, specific buildings, or other things - I'm happy to help!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:18 PM on March 28, 2009


Disclaimer - I don't live in Boston, so I've never had to look for an apartment in Boston. But I do know about this site, which might be useful - OnMarketBoston. Something similar would have been useful back when I was apartment hunting here in Atlanta. Good luck in your search. I've visited Boston a few times, and it seems like an interesting city to live in.
posted by ralan at 5:19 PM on March 28, 2009


It's doable but you're probably going to have to look outside of Cambridge. The area west of Harvard is old money, south-southeast is better but still probably not that cheap, and getting across the river as a commute is a real pain (traffic around harvard is totally jammed during rush hour in particular).

This leaves a couple areas:

Union Square, Somerville comes to mind, which is walkable if you need it, and there's a bus line (the 86) right into harvard.

Inman Square, Cambridge is a little more interesting and also walkable to harvard but it might be hard to fit into your budget. Except there are spots along Beacon St Somerville that might be cheap enough. Note that it gets markably dumpier east of Prospect St until you reach East Cambridge, including an industrial area right north of Cambridge st. that doesn't feel safe at night.

If you go north of Harvard along the Red line, the outskirts of Davis Square, including Powderhouse Square, Teele Square, and Ball Square, are also more affordable. There is a lot of housing in the area, and I find a lot of people seem to wind up living there. It's a reasonable commute into Harvard with the red line and a walk into Davis.

I haven't lived in an apartment in a victorian frame house. I did however once live in that frame house with 8 other recent college graduates, and I can't imagine being the grad student in our basement apartment. It's going to depend on who's living in the rest of the house I'd say -- and importantly, how many people that is.

I also always used a broker, since apartments move so quickly.

Good luck.
posted by cotterpin at 5:30 PM on March 28, 2009


If you don't mind saying, which school will you be at? This will make a difference in terms of walking distances. For instance, Inman Square is great for classes in the Yard, but Cambridgeport is better for the Kennedy School (where I went).

Also, the school will matter because if it's a professional program, you'll want to be able to hang out for events, drinks, etc. From what I hear, there's a lot less "networking" in PhD programs.

Almost everyone in my class lived either between Central and Porter Squares or in Inman Square. This meant that pretty much all of the socializing and study groups happened there as well. A few people lived along the red line in Dorchester, where you get a lot more apartment for your buck, but the tradeoff is a half-hour commute.

I lovelovelove Somerville, but be sure you live either right near the Cambridge/Somerville border or very close to the T. My first year at KSG, I lived way deep into Somerville and regretted it. It was a 20 minute walk to take the T one stop or a hour-long walk. It was a pain, and the money I save on rent, I paid in cab fares.

I hate to say it, but $1200 will probably only get you your own place near Harvard Square if you're very lucky. I know - I looked. I wound up my second year in a teeny tiny bedroom in a small apartment for $1000 in Cambridgeport. But you might be able to get something near the Somerville line.

If you are willing to pay a bit more, definitely look into affiliate housing. Most people end up in Peabody Terrace which, as one of my classmates put it, "looks like the nicest apartment building in the Ukraine." But you don't have to deal with landlords, you can pay online, and it will make it really easy to meet other people.

There are also a few grad student dorms, which a lot of my friends lived in Cronkite and liked it. I never considered it because living in a dorm after age 20 seemed weird, but I sort of envied the friendships people made there. It's also very cheap and centrally located.

Sorry, this comment is turning into a novel. Anyway, as for your other questions: craigslist is pretty much the way to go, especially if you're not "on the ground." Go for a broker if you get desperate. The Victorian house situation is super common and can actually be a great option - some of the best apartments I've ever seen have been these types of scenarios. Cambridge is full of old mansions that have carriage houses, servants' quarters, etc. Worth checking them out.

As for timing, I think late July or early August will be your best bet.
posted by lunasol at 5:31 PM on March 28, 2009


Also, the school will matter because if it's a professional program, you'll want to be able to hang out for events, drinks, etc.

Just to clarify this: some of my friends that lived farther away (Dorchester, Jamaica Plain) felt that they missed out on opportunities to get involved with stuff at school because of the long commute. If your last class ends at 2:00 and there's an event at 7:00, it's nice to be able to go home in between.
posted by lunasol at 5:37 PM on March 28, 2009


Thanks for all the answers so far! To clarify, I'll be a PhD student in the history department.
posted by nasreddin at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2009


It's doable. I own a 2-family in Medford, the bottom unit of which we rent out for about what you describe. We are about 20 minutes from Harvard on the bus (the good old 96). So yes, it's doable.
posted by baggers at 5:52 PM on March 28, 2009


As a Somerville resident myself for the last 6.5 years, I welcome anyone to hit up this region, its fantastic.

Basically not much to add to what people have recommended above. @cotterpin and @lunasol especially.

Recognize however that if you do go for a multi-family house (which is pretty much the normal staple in Cambridge/Somerville), that it is likely that your heating/electricity can be alot. These are old buildings with landlords who have no need to put more money into their apartments since they are ALWAYS students who they can rent it to.

Craigslist is pretty much the way to go around here, but realize its a mad dash for the Sept 1st move-ins (as well as Aug 1st and Aug 15th). It'll be a bit cutthroat, so have yourself ready to sign then and there, 'cause it'll be gone that afternoon if you're not quick enough.

If you're really looking to save, it isn't unheard of to grab a roommate to reduce costs. Somerville/Cambridge is just a mecca of 20something students who are intelligent, respectful, and fun.
posted by miasma at 6:08 PM on March 28, 2009


Hmm, if you're doing a PhD program, you'll be in the area for a long time, right? 4-6 years, at any rate. In that case, it might be worth it to get a broker, since you can absorb the cost over 5 years.

I would second miasma too - consider roommates. One thing that makes the Boston marker different from NYC is that there are a lot of shared-house situations. So while in NYC, roommates means sharing a teeny apartment with one other person, often in Somerville you can get a room in a ginormous house with a few like-minded people. I know many, many people in Boston whose first friends in the city were their Craigslist roommates.
posted by wholebroad at 7:45 PM on March 28, 2009


I live in Boston, under a totally different budget and with some other differences, but I can definitely tell you what everyone else is thinking...
That 500$ paycheck is more than worth it to avoid moving on september 1st. The entire city of Boston moves on Sept 1st; it is, without exaggeration a nightmarish, living hell on earth.
Just my 2 cents
posted by Texasjake987 at 10:52 PM on March 28, 2009


Nobody has mentioned North Cambridge, but it's a really good option where things are a little quieter and a little cheaper then some of the other better known Cambridge-area neighborhoods. It's got a cool little arts community, some good restaurants (including the amazing Verna's for your coffee and donuts), and is easy walking to Davis & Porter (depending on exactly where you live). You can also take the 77 Bus straight down Mass Ave to Harvard. You're going to be busy with the Ph.D., so you might find the relatively quiet and low-key atmosphere makes it easier to work at home then you could in some of the busier neighborhoods.
posted by dseaton at 11:57 PM on March 28, 2009


If you decide to use a broker, let me recommend John Lowenstein at Red Line Real Estate. Despite his circa-1997 website design, John is the gold standard in Cambridge/Somerville apartment brokers. (Note: I only know John very slightly from Chamber of Commerce and similar; he's done wonders for some of my friends and is constantly being celebrated as awesome on the Davis Square LiveJournal group.)

I would recommend against working with, or renting from a building managed by, Investments Limited; I have known several people who have had quite negative experiences with them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:38 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also recommend my cousin, Michael Malkoff. NOT a sleazy broker, and has lots of experience in Cambridge and environs - http://www.newenglandmoves.com/associateSearch/associate.nem?associateId=201544
posted by FlyByDay at 9:18 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


1. Definitely doable. A one-bedroom in Harvard Square probably isn't going to be feasible for $1200 a month, but there are a couple of great areas close by where you'll be fine. I'd recommend looking in Inman or Central Square--Inman is a longer walk to the Red Line, so it'll be cheaper than Central, but it's a great neighborhood, and totally walkable to Harvard. Central Square has everything, and is a 15 minute walk or 5 minute T ride to Harvard. Seconding the earlier sentiment that you definitely want to stay north of the river; getting to and from Dorchester or Jamaica Plain is technically possible in that 45-minute window, but it'll be an enormous pain in the ass, especially given that public transit in the city shuts down shortly after 1 AM.

2. Possible, but it'll cut your pool of available apartments by 80%. Unfortunately, since this is such a student-centric city, the vast majority of leases here are September-August or June-May. If you keep an eye on listings, you may be able to find something (maybe apartments from law students? I could probably put you in touch with a couple of soon-to-be-graduating-3L's from Harvard, but they're all in multiple-person apartments). There's a premium on August 1st leases, both because of situations like yours, and because moving into an apartment on September 1st is my own personal vision of hell--this place is a maze of twisty little passages on its best day, and on the 1st, 50,000 college students all hire moving vans and descend on our fair city.

3. Yup, 3-apartment conversions of Victorians is pretty much standard here. Look for places on the top floor to minimize your chances of rowdy neighbors keeping you up late, but for the most part, you can be exactly as involved with your neighboring apartments as you want to be. If you can find a place in a brick building, great; they tend not to be as numerous as units in older houses, especially in low-rise areas like Cambridge.

4. The deluge of September 1st listings will probably start soon--most property management groups that I know of locally want their (September 1st) tenants to agree to a lease extension by April 1st, and failing that, they'll list the properties pretty promptly. I'm banking on a big batch of them showing up early next week.

5. I've been Craigslist-only in the time I've been here, but it means a lot of legwork; I don't know that I'd recommend it to someone who can only be out here for a couple of days. Craigslist is the most common way of doing rental agreements out here, which means that if a decent-looking place shows up on Monday morning at 9 AM, chances are that if it's worth living in, the rental agreement has been signed by 5 PM. I've only had luck by scouring the listings early in the morning, and being on the phone with the landlord by 10 AM to schedule a viewing early enough that day that I think I'm getting in before most other people are out of work. You most likely won't have that problem if you work with a broker.

I can give you some more detailed breakdowns of neighborhoods, if you'd like... MeMail me and I'd be happy to point you toward streets that are and aren't great ideas in Cambridge.
posted by Mayor West at 5:21 AM on March 30, 2009


Thank you all for the answers. I think I'll try living in affiliate housing, at least for the first year--given that all utilities are included, $1300 for a nice studio doesn't seem all that unreasonable. If that falls through, I'll make use of the other great suggestions in this thread.
posted by nasreddin at 7:15 AM on March 31, 2009


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