Someone already used "Shipping up to Boston" but I can't think of anything else because I have all these questions.
November 26, 2012 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Moving to Boston from the South. Single parent. So many questions.

I asked this question, which turned out to be completely irrelevant, because I just got an offer from Eye Bee Emm in Waltham, which I'm taking. I'll be moving in January. I'm stoked, but after doing some preliminary research, I have a lot of questions.

Where should I live? I'm most excited about the big city aspect of this, but as I peruse Craigslist, holy shit is living in the city going to be expensive. Waltham or Watertown seem like they might be okay, but are they very suburban? Should I try to find a reasonably-priced place in Somerville or Cambridge in order to feel more in the city?

Related to this is the fact that said company will be covering broker's fees, if I use a broker from their approved list. I should use a broker, right? But won't they steer me toward more expensive apartments, as that will up their fees?

What should my apartment budget be? I need two bedrooms, or one bedroom with an office space that I can use as a kid bedroom. I need on-site laundry, a bathtub for the kid, and would really prefer a dishwasher. Other than that, it can pretty much be a closet. I would like to say $1100 if heat is not included, or $1300 if it is, in a less expensive area (like Watertown or JP?). Is that even possible? (Craigslist says no.) If not, what is a "good" price for what I need?

I would rather not keep my car, but it looks like the only bus that goes by work is the 70A, and it isn't particularly efficient. Am I right in thinking I'll need my car to commute to North Waltham? Especially since I'm also going to be dropping the little vine off at daycare and picking him up again after work.

Money is going to be tight for me, because though the offer is a good one, I am a single parent and will need full-time childcare. Childcare centers appear to charge approximately four (4!) times what I'm paying now, in Memphis, to a home daycare. Mercy. What's a good/reasonable price for a home daycare in the city? How about outside of the city? I saw this question, which was very helpful, but doesn't quite answer the good deal price point question.

How about way outside of the city? What if I go live in... Sudbury or Natick or something? I assume these outer towns will be too irritatingly/boringly suburban for me, but also an order of magnitude less expensive from a housing and childcare perspective. Am I correct? Should I just suck it up and move further out for the kid's/my wallet's sake?

Do you know of any Facebook groups for Boston-area parents? The "Alternamamas" group I belong to here in Memphis has been instrumental to my survival as a single parent and it would be nice to find something similar.

What am I not considering here?
posted by woodvine to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
^^ "Stoked" = "fired up" (literally, like a furnace) = "excited".

You'll need a car if you're working at Big Blue. Watertown is very fun--it's one of the largest ethnic Armenian communities outside Armenia, among other things, and has quite good schools. Home daycare in Sudbury and Natick isn't likely to be any cheaper; those are wealthy suburbs. If you want cheap housing and daycare, you'll have to look in the communities with lots of new immigrants, like Hudson and Framingham. But then, you're looking at school systems with a lot of challenges (underfunded, less parent involvement in many cases, complications of getting a multilingual student body up to grade level, etc.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:45 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where in Memphis do you live right now? What do you like about where you live? What would you like to be different about it? That might help us get a feel for what kinds of areas you might like up here.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:50 PM on November 26, 2012

I should use a broker, right?

I haven't had good experiences with brokers. They're not agents on your behalf as you might think - they have a list of apartments their agency was paid to get rented and will try to get you into one of those. That said, they are good for giving you an idea of what's out there.

Both times I've apartment hunted in this area, I've taken tours with brokers and at least got a sense of what to expect in target neighborhoods even though nothing they showed met our needs. Then, we lined up a bunch of viewings via Craigslist and found something via that. If you've got time to spend a couple of days here, try to set up your own viewings.
posted by ignignokt at 8:52 PM on November 26, 2012

I survived my move to Boston from parts southerly, and live to tell the tale ....

Watertown is lovely and is not at all suburban, at least not in the way that we think of suburban. It has a thriving downtown, is very walkable, and is a quick jump to the city. If you PM me, I can try to get the name of the childcare my brother used in WT. As I recall, it was a super small operation and the lady running it didn't charge an arm and a leg.

I kept my car (I lived in Brookline) and I'm glad I did. While public transit is great in Beantown, it's useful to have a car for those days when it isn't or when you need to go to Ikea or suchlike. In WT (which I'm focusing on for reasons of you having mentioned it and my brother having lived there for eons), you should be able to find housing with parking included. I can't comment on housing prices there, but I think $1300 for a 2-bedroom isn't unreasonable. My 2-bed Brookline apartment was $1700, and that area is considerably more expensive.
posted by mrfuga0 at 8:57 PM on November 26, 2012

Best answer: You will definitely need to keep your car. Even if your house turns out to be close enough to your workplace to be walkable, Boston winters are not at all like winters in the South, and you do not want be be doing all your grocery shopping by trekking through a post-apocalyptic armageddon of snow.

Watertown, Arlington, and Somerville are all within relatively easy commuting distance of Waltham while at the same time being close to the city. Rents are relatively inexpensive (for Boston) in Watertown, Waltham, and Arlington.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:04 PM on November 26, 2012

Response by poster: I grew up in upper-middle-class, very white suburbia and disliked it quite a bit. I am now staying just inside the city with another single mom whose son is the same age as mine; she lives in a perfectly nice working-class neighborhood that I like a lot. It's closer to activities and makes errands much more convenient. (It would be awesome if I could repeat this sort of roommate situation. I posted an ad to that effect on Craigslist, but no luck so far. Should I spring for one of those $99 roommate services?)

Memphis is not a walkable city, and that's something I'd like to experience, at least for a while. I'd like to live in a place with a lot of diverse culture - I bet Armenian food is delicious. I'd like to be near activities and perhaps a kid-friendly park. I drink a lot of coffee and I love authentic non U.S. food.

I don't actually go out and party much - I'm more of a reader, or a crafter. I'm pleased by the possibility of attending lectures and other events at area universities.
posted by woodvine at 9:05 PM on November 26, 2012

Best answer: Watertown and Arlington both have very frequent buses into Harvard Square, where you can hop right on the subway and get anywhere in the metro area.

Newton might actually have nicer apartments in your price range, though. There are several "town centers" in Newton that have bookstores, coffee shops, etc. Also a solid public school system. Lots of buses and Green Line subway service, depending on neighborhood.

And maybe think about Lowell? It's a city that's seen some tough times, but is focused on renewal and development. Not a bad commute to Waltham. Very diverse city, with a lot of interesting cultural stuff happening.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:17 PM on November 26, 2012

I lived in Boston as a college student, so my needs were pretty different from yours, but I feel very strongly that you should prioritize finding an apartment with heat included if at all possible. That stuff can get super expensive, and it's hard to quantify how long and cold Boston winters can be especially if you come from points south. But Boston is super awesome! Be sure to take your kid ice skating at frog pond.
posted by justjess at 9:22 PM on November 26, 2012

Best answer: I'm looking at Craiglist and seeing some nice-looking Waltham apartments. The Moody Street area is very walkable to interesting stuff (movie theater, restaurants, offbeat museums) so don't rule that out, either.

One friend used to be in the Yahoo! group "Newton Hip Mamas" which is apparently now NewtonMamas at Big Tent. It looks like they might be a good resource for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:36 PM on November 26, 2012

I just moved out of Watertown where I had a 2 bedroom for $1,600 not including heat. As you've discovered, it's expensive here and it's be hard to find a 2 bedroom in the areas mentioned - Watertown, Somerville, Arlington for $1,100.

I found Watertown to be pretty meh. It feels kind of disjointed to me like a sprawling town with not much of a community vibe. There are good Armenian bakeries, though...

Have you checked Waltham? The Moody Street area is a smorgasbord of ethnic restaurants and the Embassy Theater is great. It should be a little less expensive than the other towns mentioned.

That being said, I like the current set up you describe. Try searching in Cambridge and surrounding areas for that.

You will need a car.

Oh, and try Medford too.
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:47 PM on November 26, 2012

P.S. Congrats on the new job!
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:50 PM on November 26, 2012

Yes, you need your car, especially with a kid, and especially if you're working in Waltham. Maybe you can find somewhere in the Waltham/Watertown area at first and plan to move later? I lived in Watertown for my high school years and it was really convenient to Cambridge and Boston via bus routes. Parts of Waltham are funky and fun, and the apartments in Watertown and Waltham are generally nice with big rooms and with plenty of space. Newton is going to be more expensive but with some funky neighborhoods and decent access to the T. Sudbury and Natick will be every bit as expensive, potentially more so, and way more suburban — and my friends who live there say daycare is outrageous. Medford or Malden are also possibilities. Malden is a lot more working class, but parts of it are very convenient to the T if you want to get into the city. Medford would require a car.

Any way you can visit ahead of time? Neither Waltham or Watertown is suburban like you think, but it might help you to decide if you visited for a weekend.

And yeah, try for heat included. That's REALLY helpful if you're on a tight budget. (Also off-street parking if you keep the car. Sucks to try to find parking in a snowstorm)
posted by clone boulevard at 9:52 PM on November 26, 2012

Best answer: So I actually live part of the year in Memphis and part of the year in Boston (specifically the Belmont/Watertown/w. Cambridge area). We also lived in Arlington for a year. What you are going to find, apartment-wise, are a lot of two (or more) family houses, of varying ages. $1100 is cutting it pretty close for a 2-bedroom, and yes, heat is expensive (a few years ago we got the landlord to replace the 100+ year old boiler with natural gas, and our bills did go down, but it's still more than you'd pay for AC in Memphis in the summer).

As people have said, the inner suburbs are not like what you're used to in Memphis (but they get more suburb-y outside of 95). You will need a car to get to work, but if you find a place near one of the Harvard-bound bus lines, like the 71 or the 73, you can get to a lot of places without driving. I personally try to avoid driving in Cambridge, especially around Harvard, that's just crazy. If you've spent your life in a place like Memphis you may be very disoriented driving around the Boston area--there is no such thing as a grid, and they have these weird rotaries that are often not remotely round and have few signs and can be really confusing to newcomers.

Oh, one more thing, someone mentioned parking--this is especially important because some municipalities (like Belmont) have no on street parking overnight. So it is important to ask about that when looking at apartments. I can't remember if Watertown has that rule, but I think Arlington does, and possibly Waltham.

Feel free to memail me if you want to chat more about Boston and Memphis comparisons.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:13 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I moved to Boston from Texas. It was a bit of a shock. Be prepared for people to seem less friendly (they just want to give you your privacy and space). Be prepared for *everything* to be more costly.

Parking in the greater Boston area is a pain. A couple of years ago, we moved into a condo with a garage in which we have a space. Heaven! But be prepared for insane street-cleaning and snow emergency situations. You will, sometimes, hate your car for the pain in causes. Don't expect to be able to drive places and be certain to easily find parking. Do budget for parking tickets.

You will do best if you can find someone renting their own property --- in terms of cost and, often, in terms of quality of the place. Haunt Craigslist and the like. I found a wonderful property in Somerville with a great landlord who was really awesome about any issue we had. But that was after years of dealing with really inattentive and/or crazy landlords (in one case, our cable was ripped out because our landlady decided it could start a fire --- later she was institutionalized and her failure to pay the water bill caused some concern). Landlords in a student-heavy city can really be.... challenging. But, there are good people with good properties. Look. Look more. Be determined to find something good.

People will talk trash about Somerville -- but it is a really good community. I recommend it -- if you can handle the commute.

You are moving to a great city. Once you are here and settled, feel free to message me if you'd like help finding whatever it is you'd like to find. I love Boston and love introducing new people to it. I don't have kids -- but, you know, I can act like one so.... :)

Best of luck and welcome!
posted by driley at 12:32 AM on November 27, 2012

How long do you want your commute to be?

There are plenty of people that live in the Boston area car free. But if you can get to work on public transit and live close to your child care situation / school, it's easiest.

Boston has a lot of car sharing companies: Zipcar, Enterprise Car Share, and Hertz on Demand. My wife and I have been a 1 car family for over 4 years. We live in JP and I take the Orange line to work.

How close is your office to the commuter rail? One option would be to try to live in a community along its commuter rail line.

In terms of towns, Watertown feels very sleepy to me. Waltham would probably be pretty good, although really only close to downtown. Eastern Arlington and Westen Cambridge would be fairly convenient. Somerville and Medford are cool (I prefer Somerville) but the drive might be too king for you, depending on what side of each town you drive from.
posted by reddot at 5:09 AM on November 27, 2012

I live in Watertown right now, and I echo everyone that says keep your car! the Big Blue is not convenient to commuter rail, and while the bus does go by, it's not hugely convenient.

I love Watertown - it's very convenient to Harvard Sq, it has a nice community feel to it, and (from what I am told, as i have no kids) a decent school system. But we do have the no on-street parking in winter rule. And while there are some apartments in your price range, they're probably not common.

As others have said, Waltham and Somerville are worth looking at, as is Malden. Waltham has a reasonable sized South Asian population, Watertown has the Armenian community, Somerville has excellent reasonably priced ethnic restaurants of all stripes.
email/memail me if you'd like specific suggestions or have questions as you continue your search...
posted by darsh at 6:34 AM on November 27, 2012

What if I go live in... Sudbury or Natick or something? I assume these outer towns will be too irritatingly/boringly suburban for me

Both towns have their charm, but if you're looking for city living then yes, you will find them irritating and boring. They also won't be much cheaper than Watertown, especially when you factor in commuting costs.

I lived in Watertown for a few years and like it just fine. It was close enough that you could get into the city in a few minutes yet not totally suburban. You'll need a car to get to Waltham from just about anywhere.

What am I not considering here?

Buy some warm coats, gloves, hats, and keep a shovel and a scraper in your car at all times between November and April.
posted by bondcliff at 6:48 AM on November 27, 2012

I've also lived in the south, and now about 20 miles north of Boston. "suburb" here doesn't mean the same thing as it does in Memphis. All the towns you named were thriving towns 200 years ago; they have a purpose for existing other than "to be near Boston", they have a downtown area, they have little neighborhoods within their town, the roads are for getting around town as much as for getting into Boston or to the highway, etc. One piece of advice: compromise between living near your local downtown (which will be friendly and walkable and you might well want to hang out in) and living within an easy shot of the highway (because those are the 5 miles that seem to take forever, and that you will be driving really frequently).

If you can, invest about $600 in your happiness right now: buy a plane ticket, and get back up to Boston for a weekend, rent a car, get a cheap hotel room in Lowell or someplace, and drive all over those Western suburbs. You know yourself and your needs; you'll get to see what a few different towns are like for tooling around, what they're like for shops and restaurants; you'll have to imagine weekday traffic, but you'll at least get an idea of what the drives are like (everything takes longer in Boston area, it's just twisty and weird, 15 miles can be 20 minutes or 40); you can respond to a few Craigslist ads and get an idea of what $1100 will get you.
Yes, it sucks to spend money you don't have on a trip you won't really enjoy, but you'll get a lot of benefit out of checking it out yourself. Best case scenario, you might even find an apartment you like while you're in town.
posted by aimedwander at 7:12 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't want a long commute, at least not until you've gotten to know the area. Waltham, Watertown, and maybe some of the areas of Newton closest to Waltham are your best bets for affordable, close to work, and also interesting, at least to start. I agree with you that I hate suburbs, but all of them are more interesting than the suburbs of the midwest where I grew up.

One thing about metro Boston is that neighborhoods are really important, which is great. But it also means you're going to want to rent near-ish work for awhile and discover which neighborhood you want to live in - there are Very Different neighborhoods within the towns above. Welcome to town!
posted by ldthomps at 7:46 AM on November 27, 2012

nthing that working in Waltham means you should keep your car. Also, I'd think about taking a winter driving class or something when you get here.

If you want to keep your commute down I'd recommend against living in Somerville. I leave just outside Tufts, near Davis Square, and when my girlfriend used to come over from her work in Waltham it could take her an hour to get here.

If you can find a place near Moody St. in Waltham proper, you'll be a short drive to work and can take the commuter rail in to Boston if you ever want to hang out there. Plus Moody St. feels like a downtown area and is not a suburban wasteland like some stuff out past 95.

Definitely post or come to a meetup when you get to town.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:47 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Waltham has some very nice parts, and a good collection of eclectic restaurants, shops, and cultural venues. It will also be cheaper than anyplace else nearby. The city proper is very close, two stops on the commuter rail or a five minute drive to the Alewife subway station, where you can hop on the red line, which will take you to interesting parts of Somerville, Cambridge, Boston and Quincy. You will probably need a car to reach the Big Blue campus, tho bike commuting may be a possibility in warmer weather.

(And good god, not Lowell - the commute would be murderous, and it's a dismal, desperately poor city that's always, always, always on the verge of a renaissance that never comes.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:51 AM on November 27, 2012

My suggestion that Lowell to Waltham isn't a bad commute is based on my brother's doing Methuen to Waltham without incident for a long time. But the schools there are in rough shape, so I don't think it's the best choice for the OP anyway.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:30 AM on November 27, 2012

Watertown is a great location and reasonably priced for the area. It's a shade more suburban than Somerville/Cambridge, but the commute by bus is negligible. I would expect to be looking at around $1500 a month unless you find a really great deal. It's very commutable to Waltham.

I lived carless in Watertown for many years and it just wasn't great fun standing at the bus stop in the snow. When you get on the bus at rush hour, it suddenly gets all clammy and weird from everyone's hot-cold body heat. Weird fun fact I know, but it does become a reality. (Then again it's not that fun shoveling the snow either.) Keep your car if it's possible.
posted by mermily at 5:53 PM on November 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful suggestions. I'm disappointed to find that Lowell isn't really an option, because man, is the rent cheap out there.

I'll be coming up December 8 - 12 and staying with a friend in Watertown. Here's hoping I find a place to sublet for a couple of months while I look around neighborhoods.
posted by woodvine at 7:16 PM on November 27, 2012

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