Yet another question about moving to Boston...
April 30, 2013 7:00 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are moving to Boston! We would like to live in an up-and-coming area (as opposed to "established," getting the most space for our limited budget) close to public transportation, but are having some difficulty determining which areas are safe and fit our lifestyle.

We enjoy going out to eat, but we aren't big drinkers. We also enjoy long rambling walks and want to be able to safely explore our neighborhood at night. And we will have one car, but one of us will be depending exclusively on public transportation for getting around the city.

1) We are mainly looking for apartments in the $1500-$2000 range in Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Fenway, Somerville, and Southie. Which streets in these neighborhoods are the most desirable? Coolidge Corner, Davis Square, and Centre Street (in JP) have all been recommended and all seem very popular. Which streets are up-and-coming? For example, we have heard good things about East and West Broadway in Southie. Which streets are best avoided? Are there other neighborhoods that we should consider?

2) Also, what websites do you find the most useful for apartment hunting? We've been using Zillow, Craigslist, and Padmapper. Are we overlooking any useful tools? Would it be worthwhile to look at local papers?

3) Lastly, when should we schedule our apartment hunting trip to maximize the number of attractive apartments available on September 1. For instance, will the majority of September 1 apartments be available now, later in May, or in June?
posted by rapidadverbssuck to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Davis Square is nice, and there are definitely apartments in your price range there. Union Square in Somerville is cheaper and has a nice feel, as do some other parts of Somerville. You should figure out whether the bus lines suit your needs, since only Davis and the areas near Porter Square have convenient T access.

The Boston area has loads of students, and a lot of those students want places beginning on September 1. Those apartments are renting right now, as the school year winds down, for next year.
posted by unreadyhero at 7:46 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

It is important to know where you work/attend school when making recommendations where to live.

Public transportation in Boston closes down before the entertainment (bars / clubs / theaters) do. If you pick JP, but work/go to school near Harvard, by public transportation you'll be seriously cutting your evenings short.

September 1st is moving day in Boston. You want a lease that starts then, not before, as that gives you the best flexibility for inventory. Even if you are moving in without one this year, there are no trucks available on that day for moving, plan accordingly for 2 years from now. Also, there is no parking.

Boston is as safe a city as is possible. With that said, two blocks from where everyone lives in JP is Dorchester/West Roxbury. Likewise, Southie has some history to it, and I can attest that I was robbed twice when I lived near Dot Ave. in Southie.

If you can figure out the less glamorous bus transportation and/or bike during the summer, Inman / Union / Sullivan Squares in Somerville are probably the safest / most economical / still are relatively close to the action areas in the city.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:10 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Davis Square is centered around a T stop (the Red Line), but it's teeming with college kids from Tufts most of the year. Tufts shuttles kids into Davis, so it's a constant flow of people. It's also mostly restaurants and bars. Just so you know, the T stops at 12:30 and buses stop around 2:00 a.m.

You can walk from Davis Square to Ball Square, and you can walk up Mass Ave to Porter Square and Harvard Square. Porter Square has a grocery store, a hardware store, an independent bookstore (Porter Square Books), and really great Japanese food. Harvard is tourist land. Both Porter and Harvard have T stops on the Red Line, as well as buses.

Union Square is very trendy (it has an artisanal donut shop), but does not have T stops (only buses). You can take the 87 bus to Davis if you need to take the T. Union Square is rougher around the edges than Davis is.

Somerville in general is pretty safe and very artsy (one of the best parts of living here is going to ArtBeat in the summer). Everyone I know uses Craigslist to find housing. You will be fighting college kids for some apartments, especially around Tufts (there is a housing crisis). Start looking now.

There's a really helpful, active LiveJournal community for Davis Square here. It's really great, and the people there might be able to give you more targeted advice on housing than I can.
posted by topoisomerase at 10:22 PM on April 30, 2013

I think Jamaica Plain, Southie, and Somerville fit your description best. Brookline/Coolidge Corner is definitely not up-and-coming; it's here already. Have you looked at Brighton Center? We walked all over the place at all times. It's cheaper because it's a bit further from downtown and you have access to the 57 to Kenmore, Green Line downtown, and 86 to Harvard Square.

The earlier you look the better, although I think May/June seems to be the best as all of the college students move out/inform their landlords they won't be staying. We went apartment-hunting in late June and it seemed like we were hitting the end of prime apartment-shopping time.

Have you looked into a broker? We went with a broker and could not have been happier. She showed us places that were not on Craigslist (which always seem to be the same 5 crappy places) and honestly we would have been happy with any one of them. We had one weekend so she maximized our time and it ended up being a no-fee (for us) apartment.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 11:57 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

It really depends on where you're working, as people have said. If you're working on the Red Line, you could consider adding Quincy (the first city south of Boston); it's generally safer and cheaper than Southie. (There have been some purse snatchings around the T stations at night, but it's still lower crime than areas like Savin Hill, where one of my coworkers had his car up on blocks with the tires stolen a couple months ago.)

Quincy has four Red Line stations and a decent bus network. It's very walkable. There's a beach with restaurants and a running path, and a historic park with sites all over town, and part of the Blue Hills Reservation, and they're putting a walking trail along the Neponset. There's a ferry out to the Harbor Islands (and in to Boston). There are a ton of historic neighborhoods to explore. It's also a community with a lot of immigrants, so there are a ton of Asian restaurants and other random features (like the Finland Steam Baths, which are in a neighborhood that had a lot of folks from Scandinavia).

It is also possible to get an apartment well under your price range. (Your price range would get you a one- or two-bedroom unit in one of the mid- to upscale complexes right next to the T or a bus stop. If you're willing to go for private landlords and slightly sketchier buildings, it's cheaper -- possibly way cheaper.) The market is hot, but nowhere near as competitive as the areas you're currently looking, and you won't be competing with many students.

More general searching info -- some of this is Quincy-specific, but most of it isn't:

When I was looking earlier this year, I found that Craigslist was basically the only useful site. Zillow and Padmapper had too many Craigslist-sourced listings that were generally out of date, and the Patriot Ledger (the local paper for Quincy) no longer had useful listings. You also have to call FAST. One showing for an (admittedly cheap for the size -- $1K with heat) one-bedroom had something like 10 applicants. (And like I said, Quincy is nowhere near as desirable as the areas you're looking.) My old landlord put my place on Craigslist and had thirty responses in four hours (for an admittedly underpriced apartment, but still).

Craigslist is also stuffed full of broker's ads -- once you've spent a day or so you'll get used to them and learn to ignore them. Brokers either charge by increased rent (when the landlord pays the fee) or 1/2 to one month's rent from you. I'd suggest looking at for-rent-by-owner ads whenever possible.

I actually found my place by calling the number listed on a For Rent sign in front of a cute building. That let me avoid paying any broker fee. If you have time, I highly recommend walking through target neighborhoods and calling on any signs.

Also, if you're moving from somewhere where heat wasn't a big deal (anywhere south of here, basically) you definitely want to be aware of that. I've had friends get $300+ electric bills over the winter, because their units were drafty and had electric heat. If at all possible, get a place where the landlord pays heat (and you can control the thermostat); if you're paying heat, try to go for a place where it's natural gas (not oil and definitely not electric), the boiler is new, and the windows are new. You can call National Grid (or whoever; in Quincy it's National Grid) and ask what the last tenant's electric and natural gas bills were. Make sure you get the highest winter bill, not just the average.
posted by pie ninja at 4:17 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

JP is great! Definitely good for long walks (Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum, Southwest Corridor Park), orange line accessible -- we don't have a car and do fine with public transit or biking. I wouldn't want to live actually ON Centre St., but any street nearby will pretty much put you in pleasant walking distance from all the interesting JP center stuff.

We used to live closer to the Jackson Square stop (a 2-br, $1400), which might qualify as slightly more "up-and-coming" than down by Green or Stonybrook. However, the rental market in JP is pretty tight -- a lot of people buy homes, which is nice for providing a more permanent feeling of community than areas with a lot of college students passing through, but not so great for having a lot of rental apartment options.

In our first apartment we did have terrible heat, though, and sometimes had $300 or $400 electric bills, like pie ninja said above. Beware electric heat!
posted by little cow make small moo at 5:25 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coolidge Corner, Davis Square, and JP Centre Street are not "up and coming". They are already up and came.

For up and coming I'd recommend Union Square Somerville or Inman Square Cambridge, which are right next to each other. There are lots of good restaurants and the the neighborhoods are very walkable (especially Inman). They are both currently a little distant from the T (15-20 minute walk), but that will change some time in the next ten years when the Green Line extensions comes to Union. In the mean time there are also busses.
posted by alms at 5:48 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another helpful tool is Trulia, which will give you a heat-map of public transit times from work or whatever you want to be close to, plus crime maps and stuff like that.

Nthing that Davis Square is already up. Look at this heat map of apartment prices, via. Anything that's on the Red Line in Cambridge/Somerville is expensive, because it combines a groovy place to live with quick access to downtown. Out of those Red Line stops, my personal ranking would be Davis > Porter/Central > Harvard/MIT, but reasonable people could disagree.

(My pitch for Davis Square: home of large festivals like HonkFest, Boston International Film Festival, ArtBeat, a great indie movie theater, a tiny basement theater, a nice little hacker space, a great spot to find buskers, and most everything else you would want from nice restaurant (or ten) to dive bar to butcher to thrift shop to groovy coffee shop to corporate coffee shop to drug store to bike shop to inexplicable sewing supply shop to scenic bike path, all jammed into a couple of blocks. We're missing a large grocery store, a hardware store and a bookstore, for which you have to walk down to Porter.)

So our rental strategy was to stick with places within half a mile of Davis, no-broker, with something weird about them, and try to make the first offer -- we ended up with a place with tiny bedrooms and no yard but tons of common space at a great price.

I agree that Union Square is the up-and-coming neighborhood on this side of the river ... but it's been that way for a long time (roughly as long as the Green Line extension has been just-about-to-arrive-any-day-now). How long can a place stay up-and-coming?
posted by jhc at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you're looking for up and coming I'd rule out Inman, along with Coolidge, Davis, and JP Center. I agree that Union is an edge case, and it pretty much requires buses or bike.

I'd say for near the T and up-and-coming you want Southie or parts of JP that are toward Roxbury. I agree that if you know what side of the river you'll be working on, to head that way.

But really, if you can afford it? All of these neighborhoods are great, interesting neighborhoods. Welcome to Boston!
posted by ldthomps at 8:36 AM on May 1, 2013

I think your "up and coming" line is throwing people off the scent. As others have noted, JP is not "up and coming"--it is what it is--but I have a fantastic rental that's pretty cheap and is the largest apartment I've ever had.

Boston is a town of small landlords, and a lot of very similar housing stock (think of the ubiquitous triple-decker). The variations in price and quality are extreme.

The thing you really, really, must do is find a place convenient to where you need to be. If this means lowering your size expectations to find a suitable place, do it. While Boston has a reasonable public transportation system, it is certainly nothing like NY, London, Chicago, etc. I live in JP. If I had to get to Kendall Sq. every day, I'd shoot myself.

I used to live by MGH, which is just over the river from Cambridge, and I spent all of my free time in Cambridge--there certainly every single weekend, and some weeknights. Since moving to JP, I go maybe once every three months--and less often than that if I can help it.

JP is awesome though. I don't miss Cambridge and Somerville at all. Dreadful places filled with students and hipsters, bah.

The more time you throw at the apartment search, the better your results will be. My wife and I looked at 30+ places before finding our digs. CL is best, though we ended up paying a broker fee.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:57 AM on May 1, 2013

Yeah, "up and coming" neighborhoods in Boston don't really exist. Gentrification is not a driving force in Boston the way it is in other cities; most neighborhoods have long since gone through the up and coming stage, and the remaining less nice areas probably won't get significantly nicer for various reasons. The only exception I can think of is the areas around the Green Line extension, but since that won't go into operation for 5+ years it's not something to base your current apartment search on. You'd be better served by clarifying what specific amenities/local flavor you're looking for. Boston as a whole is an extremely walkable city, and most areas are very safe.

My tip would be to base your public transportation options on proximity to both the bus and the subway. The layout of the subway makes traveling between certain parts of the city excessively time-consuming by train but significantly quicker by bus, plus several nice neighborhoods are only accessible by bus. This website maps all of the bus routes on Google Maps and also identifies connections to subway stops.
posted by fox problems at 3:08 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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