Advice for moving to Boston
August 2, 2010 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I am seriously looking into moving to Boston. I would like to be in the city as much as possible while paying less than $1400/mo rent for at least one bedroom. I would like to be able to have a dog and park my car. (I might not drive it around Boston much, but would like to be able to use it to leave the city) I work at home. I was looking in the Brookline area or on Commonwealth between Boston College and Fenway. Any advice would be great!
posted by jillmerk to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Brookline can be pretty nice. It doesn't allow overnight parking, though, so you would need an off-street spot to live there and own a car. If your building doesn't have one, figure on $100-200/month to rent a spot.
posted by phoenixy at 2:35 PM on August 2, 2010

My $0.02: For your budget & needs/interests, I'd strongly suggest you look into Somerville instead of Brookline/Allston/Brighton/Fenway. In my experience, parking is wretched in that area, and finding a one-bedroom with yard-access within your price-range would be difficult - particularly if you'd like to be close to public transportation.
posted by pammeke at 2:36 PM on August 2, 2010

You don't mention how you've been searching, so this might be irrelevant. Craigslist is nice for giving you an idea of the cost of living in each of the various areas of Boston, but if you want to find something that is in your price range and nice, go through a realty agency. You'll generally have to pay a fee = 1 mo. rent, though a lot of places have deals where the landlord pays half the fee. I'm moving back there next year and found a great loft in the South End for $1250, half fee...if I'd just looked on craigslist, I can guarantee you I wouldn't have been able to find something that good.

You might have to give up the dream of a parking space. All the parking spaces I've seen go for more than $200/mo. That makes $1400/mo for a 1 br totally impossible.
posted by voltairemodern at 2:38 PM on August 2, 2010

Seconding the Somerville area, and adding in Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown. Belmont and Watertown both have parking bans at night, so most apartments come with a parking space, or you can rent one for $100 or so a month (which I will be doing). These towns are also located across the river from the Commonwealth Ave.-side of Boston (where spaces on the Boston side of the river will be high rent, crappy, and parking very limited). Waltham, while a bit further out, is getting to be a very hip place.
posted by not_on_display at 2:42 PM on August 2, 2010

You can get exactly what you're looking for in Allston/Brighton. However. It may be very hard to find a place in the fall, since it's 99.99% populated from September on.

I live in Allston/Brighton and I mostly love it. I ride my bike to work in Cambridge almost every day and the buses are not perfectly tuned to get me there in a smart way but it's passable. My rent is low, there are lots of great places to eat, pretty good bars, and a lot of my friends live in the neighborhood. It looks like you're already looking in generally this area already.

It's off the green line, which is not ideal, but totally liveable.

However, if living amongst a blazillion college kids, many of them deeply douchey, is a problem for you, you might consider living elsewhere. Every few weeks, I make jokes with friends about how perhaps I should move to the part of town "where grown ups live". For reference, when I think about doing this, I believe my options are (since I prefer to live in a somewhat thriving area 'close to fun stuff'):

Jamaica Plain: Comparable in rent, and lots of cool stuff to do, and also nicely diverse, but the cons are that for some reason, anybody who lives in JP never leaves JP to visit friends in Allston, Cambridge or Somerville, and vice versa. It seems to reside behind this weird mental barrier.

Somerville: Also comparable in rent, but farther north from the city, it seems like most people migrate from Allston to Somerville eventually.

South End/Fort Point/Southie: I am really intrigued by this area. I think the South End is awesome, but I rarely go there, because I don't really know anybody there. It's also more expensive than most of my other options. Fort Point SEEMS cool, but it also seems like it might be a ghosttown. Southie intrigues me but I rarely go there.

I hope this is helpful, feel free to memail me if you need more specific advice! I don't know where you're from originally, but I'm from Los Angeles and I found Boston devastatingly difficult to understand when I first moved here... particularly because it was so much smaller scale than what I was used to, and very confusing to navigate by car.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:43 PM on August 2, 2010

What specifically do you like most about the idea of living in Boston? If you're not entirely set on living within city limits, I'd recommend Cambridge. If you're close to the Red Line, you can get downtown faster than you can from Brookline/Allston/Brighton, because the Green Line is horrendously slow. In my experience, having a car in Cambridge is loads easier than having one in Boston (you're more likely to have a driveway or other off-street parking included in your rent, and even if you don't, a Cambridge street parking permit is for whatever reason way easier to get than a Boston one). There are plenty of green spaces for dogs. Craigslist pretty much dominates the apartment rental market, and $1400 is definitely a reasonable budget for a 1-br.

Exactly which neighborhoods you might like depends on your age/lifestyle/etc. (feel free to memail me with questions). Outside of Cambridge, Brookline is a very nice (if pricey) neighborhood. Stay out of Allston unless you're into frequent pest infestations and rowdy undergrads.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:44 PM on August 2, 2010

You're going to need a lot of luck to get what you're looking for in the BU/BC corridor. The sheer number of students drives up the rents on some pretty unpleasant apartments and September is fast approaching. But it doesn't seem impossible. But the suggestions to broaden your search to other towns/neighborhoods is very good.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:47 PM on August 2, 2010

your building doesn't have one, figure on $100-200/month to rent a spot (in Brookline
and figure on the hunt for a parking spot to be a multi-month ordeal that will show you the depths of the human spirit and make you wonder if it would just be easier to just park your car in a $900/month studio apartment.

sorry, I'm a little bitter about my Brookline residential experience. I would not recommend that neighborhood for anyone who owned a car ... unless, of course, the building that you're renting in actually has guaranteed parking (like, 'show me the spot and prove to me that you own it and can rent it to me' guaranteed parking. If they say, "well there's a garage nearby and they have slots to rent and I'm sure you can get one if you fill out an application" then walk away since what they're failing to tell you is that those garages also have waiting lists that are months long)

if you're open to Cambridge and/or Somerville, then Porter and Davis Square are also viable options. The Inman and East Cambridge area might be tempting, but I've found that yards there can be relatively scarce. If you don't need frequent access to the T, but are ok with buses, then you can certainly get the space you're looking for at a decent price range by considering Watertown and/or Belmont. These towns, however, are pushing the margin between city and suburb and are as far out as I'd look. You can get to Harvard Square or Porter via bus from Watertown in about 10-15 minutes, but it doesn't feel as vibrant as living in, say, Davis.

Note that with Cambridge and Somerville, there are regular street sweeping schedules that force you to move your car on a semi-regular basis, but aside from that on-street parking isn't a big deal. Both Watertown and Belmont limit on-street parking during significant parts of the year (Belmont doesn't allow overnight street parking at all, Watertown bans it during the winter) but in my experience almost every rental property in Watertown and Belmont also comes with a driveway to get your car off the street.
posted by bl1nk at 2:52 PM on August 2, 2010

Further thoughts: If you just want to leave the city occasionally, consider ZipCar or renting a car, rather than car ownership. It gets old digging your car out in the winter (especially if you don't have off-street parking) and dealing with snow emergency parking restrictions and Somerville's move-your-car-every-48-hours rule and I would never put up with it if I didn't need a car to get to work.
posted by phoenixy at 2:54 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, adding this in because I did not look at the answers before I posted:

I lived in Belmont and it was CHEAP, relatively close (if you have a car) and actually very nice. However, it was kind of dead and there was no nightlife to speak of -- you basically have to drive to it. So it's really about what your bag is on that front. If you want to go out and see live music or drink around one or two times a week, Belmont is gonna suuuuuuck. If you prefer to stay in and go out with friends a few times a month and you don't mind driving to your bbq/dinner plans/stuff to do (i.e. you aren't a big drinker), Allston is probably gonna suuuuuck.

Watertown and/or Arlington is also another good Belmont-comparable bet. I wouldn't go out farther if you could avoid it (i.e. Waltham is probably too far West, Medford and Malden too far north).

For parking, you can find a place for a reasonable amount which has a parking spot, but maybe not yard access. You may need to take time and look (and fall is not the best time for this), but it is possible, I have several friends who have yard access, a parking space, and are paying under $1400 for very cute 1 bedrooms. Look in Lower Allston if you can (which is, quizically, actually northern Allston, but it's more residential and there are lots of places that should meet your criteria).

My boyfriend lives in Allston and has a parking permit and often does find parking, although he does have to go around the block a few times on particularly crowded evenings, and it can be a nightmare. He's also gotten a lot of totally WTF THIS IS TOTAL BS parking tickets that he's had to fight, but you can actually contest them online, so there's that.
posted by pazazygeek at 2:55 PM on August 2, 2010

I loved living in Somerville. I was able to park on the street but I could also walk to the Redline. Since the Redline is a subway and the Greenline, at least up by Brookline is a streetcar, I was able to get into town fast. The Somerville/Cambridge area has lots to do. I'm not sure if this is important to you, but it is also one of the more racially diverse parts of town. Lots of artists and musicians too.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 3:00 PM on August 2, 2010

If you aren't familiar with the area one possibility, and I did this accidentally, is to find a sublet for a few months. The high student population means there's often people leaving before their lease is up. This gives you a chance to really explore and find a neighborhood you love. And, maybe more than a lot of cities, the Boston metro area seems to be made up of lots of small neighborhoods with distinct vibes. I ultimately settled on Cambridge. I'm close to the Red Line, 25 minutes door-to-door from work downtown. My particular neighborhood is a little quieter–more families, young professionals, grad students, and retirees–than some of the more undegrad populated areas. But have easy access to Boston, nightlife, and Harvard when I want to go out. And I have a yard and lots of on-street parking (if I had a car, which I don't miss).

One thing to budget for, especially if you choose to live alone, is utilities. Your $1400/month place might have $200 gas bill in the winter if you keep the heat high or it's drafty and poorly insulated. And everything out here is more expensive (I moved from Denver). Well, except lobster.
posted by 6550 at 3:08 PM on August 2, 2010

Response by poster: WOW! This is my first time on this site and I can't believe how helpful! Thanks! I hope to meet as cool people when I arrive in person!

This is all great help and a bit overwhelming, so I'll have to really dig into the advice. I was using google's map to look at prices. You can click on more and then to real estate and it shows you dots and prices of rentals! Good for just getting the general idea.

I am 30 and would like to have access to fun restaurants and nightlife. I am not moving for at least 6 mos, so have time to research and I am absolutely open to areas, not stuck on anything.

posted by jillmerk at 3:12 PM on August 2, 2010

I live in South Waltham. Moody Street, which runs right up the center is also known as "Restaurant Row", and has lost of diverse and wonderful dining. At times, Waltham can feel far from the "city", but it's really not. For example, the Boston Common is only 10 miles away, which is only a 30 minute ride via the commuter rail + subway. Central Square is only 20-25 minutes away by bus. And then there's the Charles river trail which is a gorgeous paved + packed dirt route that runs all the way from Newton to Downtown Boston and is a great trip by bike or foot.

Also, my rent is dirt cheap (I pay about $1/square foot for a funky 1.5 bedroom apartment, which is a steal). And while Waltham has a general rule of no overnight parking, the vast majority of residential streets (especially in South Waltham), have special dispensations for on street parking.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:28 PM on August 2, 2010

In response to 6550's point about utilities--gas can be expensive, but it is standard for residential leases in Massachusetts to make heat and hot water the financial responsibility of the landlord, so most advertised apartments you see will already include heat in the rent.
posted by phoenixy at 3:50 PM on August 2, 2010

but it is standard for residential leases in Massachusetts to make heat and hot water the financial responsibility of the landlord

Maybe my experience has been way different than the standard but none of the apartments I've lived in have had heat or hot water included, nor is it included in any of my friends' apartments as far as I know.
posted by 6550 at 4:02 PM on August 2, 2010

but it is standard for residential leases in Massachusetts to make heat and hot water the financial responsibility of the landlord

Sorry, but I have to disagree with this. In the 13 years that I've been in the area (along with a fair amount of apartment hunting), utilities-included apartments are a rarity outside of student dominated neighborhoods.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:05 PM on August 2, 2010

Huh, good to know. Every place I've ever looked at has had heat and hot water included, and the MA laws are written such that by default it is the responsibility of the landlord unless the lease explicitly states otherwise.
posted by phoenixy at 4:28 PM on August 2, 2010

Response by poster: A few thoughts/comments to questions:

1. What is yard-access? A common outdoor area for the complex? That would be good for my dog!

2. I don't want to live amongst a bazillion college kids.

3. I am originally from a very cute small town outside of Buffalo and wouldn't mind a place that has some similar suburban charm if it also has some culture, restaurants and nightlife. I live in Vegas now and want to get out of the cookie cutter housing and lack of anything real.

4. I am interested in Boston for the New England seasons, wide variety of things to do, close proximity to NY, Vermont, Maine (skiing), cool people and the GREAT VIBE!
posted by jillmerk at 4:28 PM on August 2, 2010

Here's my $.02 from 6 years of Boston living (Allston, Arlington, Watertown, Everett, Somerville):
1. You will have a hard time finding a place in Allston outside of Jan-April. We had to reserve in March for a rental starting in September. That's when eeeeveryone moves in and out.
2. I lived in six different apartments. Only 1, in Allston, ever included heat in the rent. And the landlord didn't turn it on until after a weekend of below-zero temperatures in mid-November, with me calling him at midnight every night because it was too cold to sleep. It's best to have control over your own heat. Keep heating in mind when you're looking at places. Ancient windows? High ceilings? Super expensive to heat.
3. ARLINGTON IS A DRY TOWN. Belmont may also be; please correct me if I'm wrong, folks. Very little nightlife in those areas. Also very little douchey student population, so YMMV.

Somerville was my favorite. Reasonable rent, reasonable parking (as long as you pay attention to signs/snow policies if you park on-street), good mix of students/grownups so that there was great nightlife but the town wasn't a trash pit. I would move back there in a hot second.

One more thing: car insurance rates in Massachusetts are ASTRONOMICAL, so keep that in mind if you think you might have to pay to park, too. Have fun! It's an awesome place to live!

On preview: I had a teeny yard in Arlington, and there was a great big park down the street. No yards in Allston; hit-or-miss in Somerville. If you have yard access at all, it is probably either the front or rear yard of a multi-family brownstone or there is a park within close walking distance.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 4:37 PM on August 2, 2010

Nthing Somerville. Lived in Porter Square and LOVED it. Would move back in a heartbeat. Parking is much easier than in other neighborhoods, even with the street-sweeping nonsense. Insurance is really high, it's true -- if you were ever considering ditching your car, now might be the time. There are Zipcar pickup points all over the place (right at Porter, in my former neighborhood's case) and the mass transit is quite decent.

The drive to southern Maine from Somerville (my house to my aunt's door in the Berwicks) was only an hour and 25 minutes or so.
posted by at 5:36 PM on August 2, 2010

I guess it's up to me to come to the defense of Brookline.

I moved here about five years ago. Before that I'd spent about 20 years in Cambridge and Somerville.

Any three of these towns could be good for you, but they are all quite different. They're all pretty urban. All of them have more-or-less good access to public transportation depending on where exactly in town you live. Do you want a one minute walk to the T or a 20 minute walk?

Somerville has great people and a great funky atmosphere. There are good restaurants but not much besides that by way of nightlife. The down side of Somerville is that it is pretty much an ugly industrial town that has been gentrified. It is very dense. There is very little greenspace. Unless you live near Davis Square or a couple of other selected locales, don't expect to be able to go for a pleasant walk from your house. Some students (especially if you're near Tufts) but more recent graduates as well as people who feel like they've never left school. Good backpack quotient (i.e. large number of backpacks relative to briefcases).

Cambridge also has great people and great atmosphere. It's going to be more expensive than Somerville, and it has a little more greenspace. Also has a relatively high backpack quotient. Lots of students but also lots of families.

Brookline is, perhaps sadly, where the grownups live. Not such a high backpack quotient. Great schools, which means there are lots of young families and tight neighborhoods. Unless you live in South Brookline (which you won't) it is very walkable and T-accessible with lots of shops and restaurants. Brookline has great parks and they are all very dog friendly; many have off-leash hours and you will make lots of friends by walking your dog. Lots of doctors and lawyers and other professionals live here, but also artists who can afford it. City services are great. (Example: the sidewalk in front of my house is plowed by the city.) You will want to get an apartment that comes with a parking space or else you'll have to hassle with finding one and it may be a ten-minute walk from your house.

It took me a while to get used to Brookline, me being a backpack sort of person. But now that I'm used to living with grownups, I like it a lot.
posted by alms at 6:01 PM on August 2, 2010

In response to your questions:

1. In Somerville, most places to live are 1-, 2-, or 3-apartment houses. So, not complexes per se. But yes - yard-access would mean that your lovely canine companion would have some running-about space that would be safe and private. There are also a number of green spaces in those areas which dog-owners frequent.

2. In that case, I again recommend against the area(s) you originally cited.

3. Somerville (and, if you're willing to be on bus routes rather than subway routes, Belmont/Watertown) would be ideal for this. Restaurants, a "neighborhood-y" feeling, wine shops, coffee spots, etc.

4. Yep, it's a great place to live!
posted by pammeke at 6:33 PM on August 2, 2010

but it is standard for residential leases in Massachusetts to make heat and hot water the financial responsibility of the landlord>>

I've been in this area for over 20 years, and have lived in a lot of places. ONE of them had utilities included. It's very rare.
posted by FlyByDay at 7:27 PM on August 2, 2010

Jamaica Plain!

Great restaurants and bars. Easy access to downtown via the T
(bus and train). Jamaica Pond, Franklin Park, and the Arnold Arboreatum. Many places have yards and off street parking, although not all.

It's a great place to live.
posted by reddot at 7:28 PM on August 2, 2010

Nthing cambridge and somerville over Comm ave, especially if you don't want to live amongst a horde of students. We have students here, but quieter - after moving to Cambridge from Boston (approx 1300 Comm Ave), I am no longer awakened by the shouts of students returning home from the bars at 1am :)
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 7:52 PM on August 2, 2010

I currently live in the area you're talking about, and one or two blocks in any direction can be the difference between a quiet and student-free block, and loud parties of dumbasses all night. It's a bit tricky; you'd definitely want to ask around or stop by once or twice during the night.

If you do look at Somerville, be aware that there is a huge difference between the gentrified west end and the much less so east end...where all the huge cheap apartments are (good luck finding anything affordable near Davis Square these days). East Somerville (especially the Winter Hill area) isn't super dangerous or anything, but some of streets there are just crappy to live on--drunk idiots ringing doorbells in the night, trash everywhere, petty theft and vandalism, that kind of thing. The neighborhood streets off the main roads are much better.

You should easily manage your price goal wherever, though, outside of the super-fancy neighborhoods. We pay less than that for a 1br two blocks from the B line, and places on our block are being advertised for about $1200 now. The major difference is really what you get for your money--farther away from the T in any town will generally get you bigger apartments and more amenities (parking, yards, etc).
posted by Dr.Enormous at 9:11 PM on August 2, 2010

2. I don't want to live amongst a bazillion college kids.

Then you very much do not want to live on the Commonwealth Ave BU/BC corridor.

Cambridge is awesome, but ruinously expensive in the nice parts and/or near T stops. Somerville is more affordable, and some of the neighborhoods are great, but you definitely want to do your research in person. I'm partial to Jamaica Plain, myself (full disclosure: I live there :-) ), and it'll probably run you less than someplace in comparable in Somerville. JP has good and a bad neighborhoods, too--until you know the area a little better, try restricting your search to places between the Orange Line and Jamaica Pond (said tracks show up prominently on Google Maps, and The Pond is, well, a big body of water--you want to look west of the tracks). Parking is a breeze, it's super-friendly to pets, Centre Street is an awesome local-downtown, and the Orange Line is loads better than the Green Line (10 minutes to Back Bay, doesn't share the road with traffic), even if it occasionally appears sketchy. Charlestown is also an option, though I don't know much about it other than a vague sense of 'hey, Bunker Hill is a fun place to live for my friend Sara.'

You do not want to live in Waltham or Arlington or Watertown, unless you are married or don't imagine yourself frequently going into the city for socializing (read: drinking). Don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but the difference between a bus/commuter rail commute to downtown Boston, and living near an actual subway stop, is inestimable.
posted by Mayor West at 5:57 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Somerville, Brighton, Brookline, and now Boston proper over the past years.

If I were you, with your needs (dog, car, not too many college kids) I would live in/near Coolidge Corner in Brookline. It is a great, vibrant area, with restaurants, grocery stores, fun craft places, and lots of parks nearby. The college kids from Comm Ave don't make it down to Beacon St so much either. I have every intention of moving back to Coolidge Corner in the next few years, as it has been the one place in or around Boston where I could really see myself "settling down."

(Full disclosure, I'm mid 20s and live in Back Bay, and love it here for this point in my life, but this point in my life involves a lot more bar hopping than I anticipate in 5-10 years).
posted by CharlieSue at 11:38 AM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Somerville has dog parks and a big dog-loving community: check out som|dog. Somerville for the win!

I loved Somerville - lived in Teele Square for several years and Union Square for several more. For your needs, I think Somerville is best.
posted by acridrabbit at 12:16 PM on August 4, 2010

I'm super late to this thread but also nthing Somerville for what you want.

I lived in Cambridge, Somerville, and Brighton (on Comm Ave, but closer to Cleveland Circle than BU). Cambridge was fun, but expensive and horrible for parking. Brighton was almost even worse for parking and full of loud undergrads. In Somerville (for about the same price) I had the bottom floor of a house with a (small) backyard and lots of street parking. Good food and bars, too. Johnny D's is (was? haven't been there in 3 years) a nice place to see music.

Good luck--I miss Boston!
posted by devotion+doubt at 6:08 PM on August 19, 2010

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