Apartmenting finding services - worth the money?
June 24, 2005 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an apartment in the Cambridge/Somerville, MA area for (*shudder*) Sept. 1. My question is: given that finding a truly "no-fee" apartment here is nigh-impossible here*, is it worthwhile to go somewhere like Grand Central Apartments?

They look like a good service- $300 is certainly cheaper than a month's rent to a broker- but how do I know they're not just going to show me the same "no-fee" apartments I can find online myself? Is it worth the $300 in time savings? Am I going to get screwed? Anyone used them before?

* Most no-fee apartment listings just mean that the landlord paid the fee upfront and rolled the cost into the rent.
posted by bobot to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I paid $100 to see the listings at a site called something like "zero fee apartments" (can't remember the exact name) for the same reason in Boston and got burned. The company kept listings up weeks after apartments were rented to draw people to the site. I went through the list and called every landlord and all the apartments were rented. The landlords were pretty pissed at the people running the service cause they were getting zillions of calls and I was out some cash.

Perhaps this place is legit, but ugh... I'd be careful.
posted by sophie at 11:43 AM on June 24, 2005

Why don't you just use Craigslist Boston? It costs nothing, the ads are the most up-to-date available, and you can search just no-fee listings...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:46 AM on June 24, 2005

My wife -- who works in the housing business in Boston -- says that the market is currently soft and that tenants are not paying fees. In fact, she says that it's flipped 180 degrees and that landlords are now paying realtors to help them find tenants.

I'd also second the Craigslist suggestion.
posted by alms at 11:57 AM on June 24, 2005

Response by poster: I've moved four time here, each time via Craigslist. I've always found a no-fee apartment. BUT, I've always been able to avoid the September-September grind, which is a whole different ballgame in my mind. I've been striking out on Craigslist for two solid weeks now, which is longer (and earlier) than I've ever looked for an apartment.

I had a sketchy feeling about these guys, but my partner was fairly sold on it (and when you discard the sketchiness it's an attractive argument). After reading the answers here I think I'm sticking to my instincts and avoiding these guys. Thanks folks.
posted by bobot at 12:01 PM on June 24, 2005

It's sketch, don't sign up. I had a Boston area friend try a firm like that once and she ended up on every telemarketer's list in the state.

Where are you looking for in Cam/Som? Davis area or Porter area? Do you absolutely have to be on the September schedule? It's not as bad out here (I'm in Somerville near Davis and Ball Squares) as, say, Allston, but it does get pretty rough trying to schedule moving vans and the like.

Don't fret too much about the CraigsList stuff just yet. Landlords know that September is an easy sell, so they don't have to post their spaces as early. Also consider Apartment Rental Experts in Central/Davis if you want to work with a realtor from the get-go. They were really easy to work with!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:12 PM on June 24, 2005

Craigslist is a great idea. Also, do you know anyone affiliated with any of the Universities, especially Harvard or Tufts? A lot of landlords advertise directly through the universities' off-campus housing services.
posted by picklebird at 12:46 PM on June 24, 2005

Craigslist is my vote too - We just moved last weekend. We ended up having to move out of Somerville, just over the border. It's a crazy pricey market right now. My suggestion is to look at as many places as you possibly can, and don't be affraid to haggle. best of luck!
posted by soplerfo at 1:13 PM on June 24, 2005

Use craigslist, but beware the bait and switch... "Oh, we just rented that one, but I definitely have a few more like it, let's go look at them." I ran across a number of fake listings when I was looking last august. If someone posts an ad in the morning and the apartment is "rented" by the afternoon, I'd call BS and run the other way.

Many times you can negotiate with the agent and get the landlord to pay half the fee or even all of it, or extend your lease by a few months and get the price down. Haggling is a must to get a good deal. Don't feel bad for the agent, they get paid either way. Ask how long the apartment has been unrented; the longer it has been vacant the more leverage you have.

I would also recommend Chestnut Hill Realty. All of their apartments are no fee and they manage the apartments themselves. They are extremely well maintained. (full disclosure: I live in a chestnut hill realty apartment)
posted by mfbridges at 1:31 PM on June 24, 2005

Everyone in Boston (and just about anywhere else, I would think) uses Craigslist. A tip for avoiding shady people is to look closely at what they write. Is the ad all caps? Avoid it. No pic? Might not be worth the time. Looks like it was written by someone who owns the apartment and is looking privately to find someone to fill it? That's probably more what you want.

Good luck. Cambridge is a great place to live.
posted by nyterrant at 1:59 PM on June 24, 2005

Contact Shari at Zen Real Estate. She'll help you out.
posted by bshort at 2:12 PM on June 24, 2005

Oh, and she's a little intense, but awesome.
posted by bshort at 2:20 PM on June 24, 2005

I live in Somerville, and can hook you up with the name/number of my realtors (a husband/wife team). They helped me get my first apartment, and then another one when my boyfriend moved cross-country to be with me. My email's in my profile, if you're interested.
posted by ArsncHeart at 3:48 PM on June 24, 2005

I second the Apartment Rental Experts suggestion.

Craigslist failed us again and again--most of the posts are fakes put up by brokers to attract you to their companies. There just aren't many apartments posted by owners that are in the right price/location/size range, in my experience, and the ones that do sound right are misleading or already rented by the time you call. Brokers are hell too--they lose the keys, don't call the tenants ahead, describe the apartment incorrectly, show you stuff that doesn't fit your needs at all, etc. Engel at Apartment Rental Experts at least listened to what we wanted, and she found us a half-fee apartment near Davis Sq. just a few days ago.
posted by equipoise at 4:36 PM on June 24, 2005

Just to share another datapoint, I just got back yesterday from a trip to Boston to apartment-hunt and used Craigslist pretty successfully to find a place for July. I second robocop is bleeding in that it's probably just too early, and given the apparent softness of the market* some of the July and "ASAP" apartments will no doubt still be available for September.

* Having lived in Boston before, I'd assumed that there was no way I could find a 1BR or studio in my price range for July on such little notice.. so I spent a day and a half interviewing for aptshare situations, and then, on my last morning in town and mostly on whim, answered a couple ads for no-fee studios and 1BRs just to see what was available in (the admittedly upper third of) my price range-- and was pleasantly surprised enough to go ahead and just snap something up. Anecdotal sure, but maybe an indication of the softness alms mentioned? The realtors and landlords I spoke to were definitely more flexible with regards to lease terms and upfront money than I thought they would be... I was actually surprised enough to not even really haggle with the place I eventually took (I know, I should've anyway).
posted by Carol O at 6:09 PM on June 24, 2005

Are you dead set on a) no roommates and b) no sublets? I'm pretty much against paying realtor fees on principle, and I'm not at a stage financially where I can afford my own place, so I've done a lot of craigslist roommate-matching in my time here. It's definitely a bit of a crapshoot, but if you're willing to put in the time and effort and be picky about it, you can find very good situations (as I have.)

To that end, have you considered just subletting a place for a few months to get your feet on the ground, give you time to find out what neighborhoods you like, and then go looking in Dec/Jan when semesters end and some places open up, or even in the spring? I sublet a place in Central for 3 months when I first moved here, and that worked out pretty well and bought me some breathing room. It would probably be pretty hard to find one right at Sept first, but you could maybe find one starting in late July or August, or maybe even something from a student who is just going to be gone for the fall semester.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 7:44 PM on June 24, 2005

And also, yes, that looks like a total scam, and yes, this is at least anecdotally turning into a renters' market right now, so I wouldn't give in to any high pressure or money-up-front tactics. There is no big scarcity of good housing in Cambridge / Somerville right now, if you can afford the baseline level of cash it takes to get into the game. My last landlord(last fall) offered to lower our rent by $100 a month to keep us (we left, the place was a dump), and our current lease, in what should be a fairly coveted location (5 blocks from Davis station) is staying right where it is for next year.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 7:50 PM on June 24, 2005

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