Moving to Boston
March 25, 2011 3:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Boston, and would appreciate advise regarding where to look for housing.

I grew up in Massachusetts, but haven't lived there full time in 20 years. This summer I am moving to Boston for a new job, and I need to start looking for housing. For the past 7 years I've owned my own home, but I am planning to rent initially (for 1-2 years; if the job works out I would then plan to buy).

I'd like to have access to the T; I'll be working at Tufts Medical Center and I think commuting on the T (going in pretty early) will be easier than parking. I do have a car, though, so would want parking available. What will limit my search the most, I think, is my pets. I have 2 cats and a dog (big Lab). My dog is used to having a back yard, and I'd like to be near parks or even have a small outdoor area. I guess that means I'm looking for homes/duplexes/townhomes more than condos/apartments.

I'll be living alone, so I don't require a huge living space. I'm aware that I will be paying (likely much) more, proportionally, for housing that I have been in the Southeast. I'm willing to pay a bit more for security (don't want to live in a completely sketchy area) and the ability to accomodate the pets.

I'm also moving from a fairly bland suburb, and I'm really looking forward to all that will be available in a city. I'd like to be near some shopping/restaurants/bookstores, etc, that I've been missing in my current spot.

So, I'll be visiting family in MA this weekend for several days, and will also block out time in April. I'd like some advise re: specific neighborhoods, etc I should be looking at. Also it's been a while since I was looking for a rental; can one use a real estate agent for that? (say, if I narrow it down to an area, can I nail something down while I am still in the South?) or, would it be better to keep combing Craigslist, etc and deal with each place individually? Thanks very much!
posted by maryrussell to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Jamaica Plain? The orange line runs through there, which is the one that stops at NEMC. If you're willing to go a few blocks off the main drag, I recall a pretty decent selection of duplexes and triple deckers out that way. Not sure about parking, I never used to drive to/through JP.

As for the atmosphere, it varies, but I recall it being pretty oriented towards students and recent grads, thought not nearly as trendy as, say, the South End or Allston/Brighton. Nice bars and restaurants but not really the focus of any night life.
posted by rkent at 3:38 PM on March 25, 2011

Best answer: You may want to consider Jamaica Plain - it's on the Orange Line which will give you a straight shot to the Tufts T stop. JP is also a little less expensive and little more funky. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar enough with the area to tell you exactly which bits are nice and which are not - it has some very urban parts.

If you have a car and you don't mind a more suburban environment, you might have success at the northern end of the Orange Line (Oak Grove) in Medford.

The students I spoke to at Tufts earlier this year mostly lived in Cambridge and took the Red Line to Downtown Crossing, then walked to NEMC from there. That's a 10 minute walk or so. Driving to NEMC is AWFUL (at least, taking a cab there at 9AM on a Friday was).

Don't expect to pay less than $1000 for a single bedroom. Don't expect a new building. I can't think of anywhere you could rent a townhouse for a reasonable amount of money in the city.

posted by maryr at 3:39 PM on March 25, 2011

Best answer: PS: You could also looks at Padmapper - it's easier to look by neighborhood that way, I've found, but I'm familiar with the area I'm looking in. (Somerville, which is great, but not the best for getting to NEMC.)
posted by maryr at 3:40 PM on March 25, 2011

I spent several years renting half a duplex in East Arlington, within walking distance of Alewife station, and it was really nice. Pretty neighborhood, never made me feel insecure, and being near the Red Line made it easy to get to places where there was more action.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:00 PM on March 25, 2011

Jamaica Plain is great - I lived there for many years. However, it kind of sucks to get in and out of with a car. It's not that close to a major highway and a little bit cut off from the rest of the city. It is on the orange line though, and if that's what you are looking for, there are very nice areas there, a great pond, an Arboretum, lots of funky stores and restaurants.

It all depends on how urban you want to get. Cambridge might be a good fit, though expensive. If you live near the T, it won't be too bad to go into Downtown Crossing to catch the orange line.

Feel free to memail me if you want. I've lived all over the city for the last 10 years.
posted by Sal and Richard at 4:03 PM on March 25, 2011

However, it kind of sucks to get in and out of with a car.

As a driver from anywhere-else-in-the-country, I maintain this same statement applies to every location within the 95/128 loop.
posted by rkent at 4:10 PM on March 25, 2011

Orange line neighborhoods. Somerville near Sullivan Square.
posted by Gungho at 4:46 PM on March 25, 2011

If you want real interesting urban consider East Boston. It's right on the blue line. You should really do a visit and scope out neighborhoods as they are pretty different.
posted by sammyo at 5:09 PM on March 25, 2011

nthing Jamaica Plain.
posted by AthenaPolias at 5:39 PM on March 25, 2011

Best answer: I agree that Jamaica Plain sounds like what you want. I've had coworkers who had dogs and cats and rented in JP, though I don't know the exact neighborhood or even what kind of place they had, but it is possible!

Medford/Sullivan Square is a good idea too. And although the Tufts stop is on the Orange Line, it's pretty easy to get to from any direction; the Blue Line is the only line where you'd probably want to change lines to Orange rather than walking from the closest stop. For the pets, though, I think Orange Line or the Red Line near Alewife, Davis, or Porter could be a good bet.

I think you are right on in assuming that taking the T will be easier than driving and parking. The driving is disastrous down there. Like, bad even for Boston - high volume, a warren of one-way streets, people wandering out into the road... And based on my experience working at other Boston-area hospitals I assume the parking would be crazy-expensive.

You can definitely use a real estate agent, although they often charge a fee (up to 1 month's rent). Could be worth it where you've got limited time for searching, although I've found agents to vary wildly in terms of their usefulness (sorry, I don't have any specific recs!). You might want to set up one day for searching and book one agent in the morning and another in the afternoon. Realtors advertise a lot of those apartments on craigslist, so there's a good chance you'll deal with one at some point, regardless.
posted by mskyle at 6:24 PM on March 25, 2011

Best answer: For another option, a good friend of mine lives in Cambridgeport (near Central Square on the red line, about a 10 minute walk from the station) in a neighborhood that is quiet and safe, she has a yard for her two dogs to run around in, proximity to the footpaths along the Charles, walkable grocery stores, and good access to busses for bad weather days. She also commutes every day to her lab at Tufts Medical Center. She has an apartment, but I think that area of Cambridge also has some duplexes.
posted by olinerd at 6:44 PM on March 25, 2011

I don't know about all these recommendations for Jamaica Plain. Roxbury is between Jamaica Plain and downtown.

Roxbury is where all the gang murders happen. I always felt nervous when I rode that section of the Orange line.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:47 PM on March 25, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks very much! I haven't marked best answer b/c all of these are very helpful. JP sounds promising, and I see some good options on craigslist that I will try to scope out this weekend. I won't rule out other areas yet though; further out on the red line sounds like it could work well also.
posted by maryrussell at 7:36 PM on March 25, 2011

I don't know about all these recommendations for Jamaica Plain. Roxbury is between Jamaica Plain and downtown. Roxbury is where all the gang murders happen. I always felt nervous when I rode that section of the Orange line.

Um, have you been to JP lately? Or ridden the Orange line? I'm a woman who rides that line alone all the time. You have to keep your wits about you - it's not lalalasuburbland - but JP is a great place for rentals with animals and for someone who wants a bit of space but also in proximity to cute cafes, shops, restaurants, shopping. We have tapas! And a Scottish gastro-pub! And for what it's worth, almost none of the violence in the surrounding area is random.

FYI - there is a new Whole Foods going in the old Hi-Lo building. It's on the upper end of Centre Street, in the part called Hyde Square. I live up here and it's great, and having a Whole Foods within walking distance, three excellent bars, tons of Dominican/Cuban food, bike shop and more. You can walk to JP Pond in about 8 minutes or less - there is a greenway down there, and a nice path around the pond. Other people live down towards Forest Hills, which is closer to the Arboretum for walking, with a few restaurants, a food co-op place (Harvest) and some other amenities.

Definitely walk around the street that you're considering a few times during the day and evening. At first we were sketched out at night, and in some parts of this neighborhood, the quality of the street and safety changes block by block.

JP is one of the few neighborhoods in Boston that feels kind of integrated and mixed. There are tons of latinos, there's a sizable contingent of African-Americans, Africans, gays, yuppies, artist-musician types, across quite a broad swath of income levels. Some of these different groups do tend to cluster in certain parts or on certain streets, but on the whole, JP is more mixed than the South End, and I'd say even most of Cambridge or Somerville.

I've haven't been here for that long, but if you have other questions, drop me a note. I love this 'hood and am so glad we landed here instead of some of the other more 'precious' neighborhoods.

Note: no clue about proximity or access to Tufts.
posted by barnone at 9:24 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The other end of the orange line at Oak Grove (or Wellington) might be worth checking out too (Medford/Melrose/Malden/Stoneham). It is a little suburban, but many places are likely to have off-street parking, a yard and allow pets. Plus, you'd be near the Middlesex Fells and the great dog park at Sheepfold.
There are walkable shops and restaurants in those areas, and they're not far from Davis Sq. or Cambridge.
And Roxbury is not where all the gang murders happen.
posted by ants at 9:35 PM on March 25, 2011

I'm willing to pay a bit more for security (don't want to live in a completely sketchy area)

Then I would be hesitant about Jamaica Plain unless you know exactly where you are moving. JP is great if you don't mind living in a slightly sketchy area but some of the surrounding area isn't the greatest. I would recommend JP if you were coming from a more urban area and are used to the character and characters of a larger city.

Walking from Downtown Crossing is no problem so I would highly recommend Cambridge or Somerville on the Red Line. Much less sketchy neighborhoods with all of the amenities/proximity of the city.

My dog is used to having a back yard, and I'd like to be near parks or even have a small outdoor area. I guess that means I'm looking for homes/duplexes/townhomes more than condos/apartments.

This is going to be very tough especially if you live by yourself and want to live on the T. It is not cheap to live in Boston and proximity to T and a yard come at a premium, but become more affordable the further out you go.

I have always dealt with a broker for ease, security, and availability of units. Pay the 1/2 fee and forget about it.
posted by comatose at 10:05 PM on March 25, 2011

Oh lord. Medford has many lovely neighbors, but I would really stay away from living anywhere near Sullivan Square if I could help it. Call me paranoid if you like, but I refuse to be there after dark. If you really want to live in that part of the world, aim for Wellington. And I wouldn't worry about the Orange Line passing through Roxbury on the way to JP - yeah, it's probably not safe to nap on the T or anything, but a) Roxbury, not Dorchester (and Dorchester has perfectly nice parts and not nice at all parts) and b) no one gets murdered on the bloody train.
posted by maryr at 11:03 PM on March 25, 2011

PS: The reason I have reservations about Sullivan Square is because there isn't much of a neighborhood there, especially at the T stop itself. It has a very deserted feeling above ground (where you would likely be waiting for a bus home) at night. I live in West Somerville and the neighborhood really does change as you head east - once when you hit Winter Hill and again when you cross the McGrath.
posted by maryr at 11:05 PM on March 25, 2011

Another option to consider, if you really want a yard, would be to get a place near the commuter rail. Pick any of the lines the come into Back Bay, make a quick transfer to the orange line or you could walk from there to TMC in 20 minutes. I like Newton. Suburbanish, but if you choose carefully still somewhat walkable, with plenty of shops and restaurants.
posted by libraryhead at 1:59 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Folks, if the last time you were in the bad parts of JP was like 10+ years ago, let's stop perpetuating the "JP is dangerous" myth, ok? Sure, there are streets that you might not want to live on, but 99% of JP is either very safe, totally gentrified or on the way there! (Which isn't always a good thing!) And I'm not saying people in this thread are implying this, but I've noticed that (white) people in Boston often say "it feels unsafe there" to mean it's not a white suburb and there are lower income folks of color and there are more bodegas than Starbucks.

They are putting in a Whole Foods within a 10 minute walk of the Jackson Square T, at the top end of Centre Street. Whole Foods is not exactly known for plopping their stores in the midst of rampant urban crime, or even somewhat sketchy areas!! (note, this news has caused uproar in JP, where its citizens have a long history of community organizing and sustainable development.)

It seems like lots of apartments here are rented out through rental agents. There are a few here in JP and they're all pretty much at the same level of slimy. There are still some individuals who rent out their own place, but that practice seems to be dwindling. The agents will have some ideas about the "safer" (aka extremely gentrified, come on!) areas of JP and those that are still a little more run down or that feel unsafe at night. BUT! They also want you to rent their apartment, so they will ALWAYS play up the good areas and feed you stories about the 'bad' areas. It happened to us when we moved up here and in retrospect, I was a complete dummy to fall for it. It's hard to navigate when you're new to the area though.

The Forest Hills area might be good for you - slightly bigger properties and lots of dogs, but make sure you're still close to the T.

You might like parts of Brookline, but it's expensive.

Don't forget about Hotpads and Padmapper. They're really useful for seeing general pricing trends in different areas.

There is also a list called the Queer Agenda, for LGBT folks. They put out an email newsletter every week or two, and there is a big section for the housing market (as well as events, classifieds, volunteer gigs, etc.). I've noticed that many owners rent their properties out through this service and the places are generally a good deal.

Finally - remember that Boston is one of those strange places that basically has a city-wide moving day: September 1. There is a HUGE turnover of apartments for this day, and it's a bit of a madhouse for finding a place when you have to give notice on your old place. Moving trucks are non-existent for that time - they've been booked for weeks or months. And you will find so much less on the market in the months before September 1 and the months afterwards. It's not exactly barren - it's a major city, after all - but there is a massive spike in the rentals for that date.

Good luck!
posted by barnone at 6:48 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jamaica Plain is a wonderful neighborhood. Roslindale is one step further from the city making travel a little more inconvenient but it has a great little village, it is more afordable and it has the other side of the Arnold Arboretum. libraryhead's point about the commuter rail is a good one, it is a little more expensive but a nice ride and sometimes I grab it to go down town from Roslindale just to avoid the bus. To say you shouldn't take the train through Roxbury is like saying you shouldn't walk through the forest because a tree might fall on you. Apartment hunting with a dog can be hard and you might find it worth your while to get an agent.
posted by InkaLomax at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2011

Not to add to a potential derail, but don't worry about taking the train through Roxbury. Roxbury itself has lots of lovely places to live, and it's completely over-the-top to worry about taking a train, that goes on an electrified train track through train stations with train police, through an area. Unless you're worried about stagecoach robbers hopping on top, drilling a hole through the metal shell, and stealing your bag of diamonds -- that, of course, makes sense.

The other thing to remember about the train in Boston is that it shuts down about 1:00am. Which is annoying, but also means that you won't be sitting around abandoned train stations at 3:00am, like you might in NYC. There are maybe a few train stations in Boston I'd be more alert in, if I were waiting for the last 1:00am train, but you don't have to worry about taking a train through an area. So don't let that be a consideration.
posted by lillygog at 9:23 AM on March 26, 2011

Best answer: Sorry, and here's some actual info for the poster: I'd nth Jamaica Plain and Cambridgeport, but also think about stuff of the D and C lines. They'd take you right into Park, which isn't that far of a walk to Tufts Medical. Coolidge Corner (C line) is really pricey, but Washington Square (a little further out) is one of my favorite areas. Lots of shops, and easy ten-minute walk to Coolidge Corner.
posted by lillygog at 9:29 AM on March 26, 2011

I can't favorite barnone's response enough!

I have a dog, a backyard, and live on the orange line. If I catch the right train I could get to tufts med in under 20 min.

And *gasp* I'm a white woman who lives at Roxbury crossing! My neighbors are very nice, they know my dog by name and I've never witnessed any "gang violence."

Maybe some kids smoking pot (and once I saw some teenagers
get in a fistfight) but I generally
feel safe.

Congrats on moving to Boston! I really really love this city and I hope you will too.
posted by MrsHarper at 5:34 PM on March 26, 2011

also think about stuff of the D and C lines. They'd take you right into Park, which isn't that far of a walk to Tufts Medical

Or better yet, Boylston which is 3-5 min. closer. =)
posted by maryr at 8:37 PM on March 27, 2011

Best answer: maryrussell, my wife and I bought a place in one of the slightly-sketchier parts of Jamaica Plain about a year and a half ago, and we love it here. I still feel totally current in talking nuts-and-bolts, gritty details about individual neighborhoods in JP. If you have any questions based on craigslist listings, please post here or shoot me a MeMail, I'd be happy to give you the lowdown on neighborhoods!
posted by Mayor West at 5:26 AM on March 28, 2011

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