Crunch time: planning time off to apartment hunt in DC or Boston.
February 12, 2009 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Best time to visit to find a place to live for August in a) Boston or b) Washington, D.C. metro area/suburbs.

I'm in the midst of hearing back from law schools for Fall '09, and I'm leaning toward schools in D.C. and Boston. I won't be deciding for sure until April, but I have to ask of time from my job right now to have a good chance of getting it off.
My window is May - July to visit to find and hopefully sign the lease to move in August into a place in:
a) Boston or most likely suburbs
b) D.C. or most likely suburbs in VA or MD.

I'm from Austin, TX, and even here in order to live remotely close to the center of town, you usually have to start looking months in advance because it's a competitive market (huge student pop.). I imagine it's MUCH harder to find a place in the Boston and D.C. areas.
I've found most of my rentals online in Austin, through Craigslist and MLS listing sites, but I know not every city is like that. I'll be looking for affordable 1 bedrooms for my boyfriend and I to share that are close to trains or buses. Being from Texas, our current finances aren't on par with the cost of living in the Northeastern cities. This is why we are thinking suburbs and commuting via public transit.

So, I guess my main questions are, for those who are familiar with D.C. or Boston areas:

1) How early should I start looking for a place in either city?
2) Is the internet used much to find listings in D.C and/or Boston?
3) If the internet is not the best way to find rentals, how early would I need to physically go out there to find a place?

I just realized that I have to ask for the time off by tomorrow afternoon, so I really appreciate all your advice.

Thanks, all you current/former Washingtonians and Bostonians!
posted by fructose to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've lived in both cities, but haven't lived in Boston since 2001 so my info would be pretty dated.

I really think you could find a place to rent in August if you came to DC as late as June or even early July. You could do it earlier if you were looking for a big building. But I don't think you'll find much inventory for smaller places unless you come closer to August.

Craigslist works great in DC, particularly if you don't want roommates. You can also check the Washington Post.

What do you consider affordable?

As a former law student, I highly recommend living close to school. You'll be working very long hours and I wouldn't have wanted to have wasted much time commuting. Also, since you don't have many DC friends at this point (presumably), you'll probably want to spend time getting to know your classmates, who will probably live fairly close to school.

If you tell us which schools you're thinking about in DC we can probably suggest affordable neighborhoods (by DC standards) nearby.
posted by semacd at 2:51 PM on February 12, 2009

It's the same deal for Boston...I would recommend you start looking in June or early July, and use Craigslist.

You probably want to undertake a deep investigation of the MBTA website before you pick places to look...suburban housing that's an easy public transit commute from Boston is priced accordingly.
posted by phoenixy at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2009

Duh, I totally forgot to mention what schools I'm looking at! Thanks for reminding me and for the good info so far!

Boston: Boston University (haven't been accepted yet, but from all indications have a decent chance)
D.C.: Been accepted to George Washington, applied also to Georgetown as a huuuge long-shot, but would definitely go to G'town if accepted.
posted by fructose at 3:17 PM on February 12, 2009

Speaking from experience, if you're looking for your own place in Boston, you should consider looking no later than April or May for August or September.

If you're looking to move in as a replacement roommate for people renewing their lease, then you can look any time after May and even into July.

But to give you an idea, our landlord has asked for us to let him know our intentions by March 19th for our Sept 1st renewal, after which the apartment will be shown as available if we don't renew or are undecided.
posted by zizzle at 3:30 PM on February 12, 2009

I recently looked at apartments in Boston in November. If you look at my activity you'll see some previous relevant threads. I looked basically everywhere north and south (from Jamaica Plain to Somerville), and there were a ton of places at all price ranges available.
posted by arimathea at 3:31 PM on February 12, 2009

1. DC proper is mostly just as cheap as the suburbs, plus it doesn't suck here. So live in DC! If you're going to GW you have many nice Orange and Blue Line choices of neighborhood. If you get into Gtown take out a loan and live in a fancy hotel you're gonna be rich!

2. Craigslist works fine, there are always plenty of places to live. The reason to start early is to find cheap listings that are in a neighborhood you desire. Some parts of DC are scary for nervous outsiders, but are actually fine. Some are in fact crime-ridden and barren landscapes of hopelessness. Make sure anyone who gives you advice understands the current state of affairs in town and isn't conjecturing based on living in Fairfax in the mid-90s. So anyway, with CL and planning you can come see places and move in quickly to a good spot, especially if you are not utterly dead-broke. Nowhere in DC is cheap, close to everything, and friendly for newcomers. Oh, except my neighborhood!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:33 PM on February 12, 2009

Can't really speak to Boston, but the DC market seems to be pretty wide open. There are TONS of buildings. The Washington Post puts out an extensive real estate guide every month, and that doesn't even list all of them.

Also, if you end up going to GWU, you're not just limited to the Blue / Orange lines. Farragut North (Red Line) is maybe an eight minute walk from the law campus.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:55 PM on February 12, 2009

There are some pretty good deals to be had on apartments in DC proper; we still have rent control here. I found my current place (not far from the G'town main campus) on Craigslist 4 years ago and still love it.

There's always a fairly high level of churn here, so I wouldn't say there's necessarily a best time to look. It just depends on how much lead time you want to give yourself.

And, as it happens, I lived in Austin for four years, so I'm very sympathetic. Memail me if I can help!
posted by orrnyereg at 5:30 PM on February 12, 2009

I would use Craigslist and start looking now - I recently noticed that there are already a ton of places listed for August/September. Might as well beat the crowd. There are a number of agencies in the city that will help you find an apartment as well - a friend works for City Central. Call one of them and set up an appointment, and they'll take you out apartment-hunting for the day. They don't usually charge you anything - they make all their money from the landlords.

If you're going to BU and looking for a budget apartment, I'd suggest looking for places in Allston and Brighton.

Good luck!
posted by mpronovost at 5:54 PM on February 12, 2009

In my above post, I should have been more explicit - I am referring to Boston. I'm not familiar with DC.
posted by mpronovost at 5:55 PM on February 12, 2009

I did the lawschool in DC thing and did not have much luck at all looking for a place while in another city. I went in mid June for 1 week and had very little luck as well. Finally I was able (through my new roommate who was living in DC) able to line up a place in mid July, about 1-2 weeks before we moved in. In my experience that's when most of the places open up for August 1.

However, saying that we did get a great place several months ahead of time when we moved. But part of that was getting lucky and I doubt you would fly out for a weekend (with not much notice) to look at one place. People are generally not very receptive to renting to people they haven't met first and those that are generally are charging a premium (think big management companies in big expensive apartment buildings).

I've found that craigslist and Washington City Paper are the best for looking for housing in DC. I've had a lot of luck with both. It may be worth your while to continuously monitor craigslist for good deals and make a trip out earlier if you have some good places lined up.

And just a word of advice, I would really encourage you to minimize your commute your first year of law school. Long commutes are not fun in DC late at night and law school books are very very heavy and your laptop is very very stealable. You really won't have time to waste commuting upwards of an hour each way your first year of law school, so plan accordingly.
posted by whoaali at 7:54 PM on February 12, 2009

BU Law School looks to be in the main campus. You could also look in Cambridge across the BU Bridge. It's easily walkable (there're sidewalks). I also agree that Alston and Brighton would be good bets. There's probably also a lot of housing available right around BU.

Also, if you're into public transportation, look along the green line of the T. ( If you don't want to switch lines, look along the Green B line (going west) or the rest of the green line (going east). The Green line splits at Copley Square as it goes west into the various sublines. You could also easily walk from stops on the C line. In general, Boston is pretty compact and walkable.
posted by reddot at 7:08 AM on February 13, 2009

If you're going to GW, you probably want to look on the Orange or Blue lines. I'm prejudiced in favor of being in the District (and I did live in NoVa for 2 years in law school), but you could definitely look in Virginia (try near the Courthouse Metro Station or Clarendon or even Ballston) to save on rent money and you wouldn't have a very long commute. Rent tends to be a bit cheaper there than in nicer areas of DC, and it's generally very safe (but a bit generic). You could also try Capitol Hill. A bit less safe than VA in parts, but I think it has more charm and rent can be affordable. Near to Capitol South, Eastern Market, or Potomac Metro stations would probably also be good (Potomac being the least safe). You would take the orange line to Foggy Bottom metro station.

If Georgetown, then you can live on the Red Line (you could rent in Silver Spring, or Takoma Park MD which are cheaper than the District). You might like Takoma Park, coming from Austin. I lived in SS for a year and didn't like it, but both TP and SS have lots of fans. Then you would get out at Union Station at walk a few blocks to Georgetown. Or you could live on Capitol Hill and walk/bike/metro to Georgetown Law. (Which is located near Judiciary Square/Union Station, not the neighborhood of Georgetown where the main campus is.) This would be a bit of a hike (although I knew many at Georgetown Law who did it), but you could live in the U Street area (green line), which you might like coming from Austin. You could also check out Shaw (green line, but not far from Georgetown). It used to be very questionable in terms of safety, but it's getting better. Rent is pretty cheap there.

Check out rentometer to get a sense for prices.

Mefi email me if you have any more questions. Good luck!
posted by semacd at 7:11 AM on February 17, 2009

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