Finding an apartment in Boston while in San Francisco
August 1, 2014 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I just got a new job in Boston (hurrah!) and need to be relocated there by the first week of September (boo!). How should I approach apartment hunting?

Right now, my plan is line up showings the day after I fly, get a room at a reasonably-priced (hahahahaha) hotel/b&b for a couple of days and pound the pavement. Seeing as I'll probably be stuck paying a damn broker fee, is there any way I can make apartments represented by brokers work in my favor by asking brokers to find listings that match my requirements? I know this time of year is pretty much the worst time to move to Boston, but it can't be helped.

I'd really rather not do roommates--most of the listings I've found require at least a 6 month commitment, which is too long. I could do maybe a month at most. I will be traveling a ton for work, coming and going at odd hours and working from home when not traveling, so not ideal for someone else to have to deal with.

I lived in Cambridge for a year a couple of years ago, so I'm somewhat familiar with Boston and the surrounding neighborhoods and towns. I'll be looking for a place downtown with easy access to Logan and South Station via the T as I'll be traveling for work via plane and train a lot.

Hope me, Boston MeFites!
posted by smirkette to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Think about doing a sublet for the first couple months, if you can find one. Then you'll be more familiar with what neighborhoods you like before you get stuck somewhere on a year lease.
posted by jabes at 4:44 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

What's your budget?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:03 PM on August 1, 2014

Response by poster: My budget's ~$1800/mo if heat isn't included. Planning on $200/mo for heat/power...does that sound reasonable? Again, I'll be on the road a lot--it'll vary, but somewhere between 50-75% of the time, which will impact utility usage. I could go higher depending on an individual apartment's amenities. Hoping to be within an hour of both the airport & the train station on public transit. Will not be bringing my car. I'd love to pay less for rent, but given how much I'll be going to and from the airport & train station, I'd be surprised if I find anything much cheaper than that convenient to both.
posted by smirkette at 5:27 PM on August 1, 2014

Jabes' advice is solid. The market here runs months out from move-in date on most good units. The unit I'm leaving, for example, we had to sign the lease 3 months before move-in. This is pretty standard for decent quality apartments. That makes a rapidly accelerated move-in pretty risky. Thats not to say it doesn't work out, but in general the good September 1 units were rented 1-2 months ago. If you can find a way to 1) get off the sep 1 cycle, 2) have some time to get acclimated to the area, and 3) get some flexibility in your move-in date (eg aim for oct/nov/dec movein, depending on when you find the right place), I think you'll have much better luck. Plus, getting off the september 1 cycle pulls you out of the student rental market and you'll probably see better apartments at your price point.
posted by heresiarch at 6:34 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I were in your situation, I'd look for a month or so in someone's apartment using airbnb. It might not be the greatest place for the first month based on your budget, but I think you're going to want the time to really find a good place, lest you get locked into a lease that you are really miserable in.

When I last moved to Boston, I sublet a room in an apartment for one month and used that month to apartment hunt. I was looking in February and I still didn't feel like I had enough time. Airbnb didn't exist then... but it does now! It would have been a godsend for me back then.

Rents in Boston are wicked high, and they are pretty stringent about signing leases in advance everywhere. Month/month is pretty much unheard of. I would not say that nice, affordable apartments are plentiful. If you don't give yourself some breathing room to look, you could find yourself locked into a year lease either someplace you don't want to be, or in a really crappy place, or in someplace not so bad but way more expensive than it has to be.

Don't want to alarm you! But I would strongly recommend finding a roommate or a sublet situation for a short term and give yourself some time to really house hunt. :)

Good luck! I just left Boston 3 months ago and I already kinda miss it!
posted by pazazygeek at 6:49 PM on August 1, 2014

In general, the brokers who have listings you want won't have any reason to hang on to them for you specifically, because they will have other people who are qualified and are interested in the rentals. :-/

The best way to find a place in Boston, esp. a place without a broker fee, is to obsessively refresh Craigslist and always be the very first person to call on new listings, after which you try to arrange to see the apartment that night, before anyone else does. Unfortunately, it just isn't possible to do that long distance. So I agree with the folks who suggest finding a temporary arrangement like AirBbB for your first month if possible.

One of the downsides of relying on the T to get to the airport/train station is that it shuts down earlier than you may like -- if your flight or train is delayed and gets back after 1 AM on a weeknight (not unusual), you're cabbing it. Or if you need to get to the airport for a 5 AM flight. So that's worth considering. (I used to travel for work, and most of my coworkers still do, so I'm familiar with this challenge!)

Also consider if you're willing to have a connection to get to either the airport or South Station... the airport is the blue line or silver line, and South Station is the Red Line. So if you want to be going direct to both, you'd be looking for something walking distance from South Station (red, silver) or the area between Downtown Crossing/Park and State (red, blue). (Or Government Center, but that's shut down right now.) Those are pretty dense, mostly commercial areas of downtown and I doubt you'd find a rental in your price range down there. If you're willing to make a connection to either SS or the airport, there are a lot more options for you in areas that are served by only one of those three lines.

If you're willing to compromise on being in the center of Boston, there are some areas with decent T (or cab) accessibility to South Station and the airport that are also far enough out that you're avoiding the high-end rental market and the dense student areas.

$200/month for heat/electric sounds like a very safe estimate unless you get a place with oil heat (don't get a place with oil heat, FYI) or electric baseboard heat (don't get a place with baseboard unless the landlord pays electricity).

Also, National Grid will totally tell you the current tenant's average bills if you call them and give them the apartment number. I highly recommend doing this before you sign a lease. (I assume NStar does as well, I just haven't used them since I'm not in an area they serve.) Not perfect (the previous tenant might have liked it at 50 F in the winter, or 85F) but it gives you a guideline.
posted by pie ninja at 7:06 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check your MeMail (and if anyone else is looking for an apartment with bus and commuter rail connections to downtown, available 9/1, drop me a line....)
posted by Sublimity at 7:31 PM on August 1, 2014

Bit out of left field, but you might want to think about looking in Eastie. Some parts are still a bit rough around the edges, but Maverick square is redone and quite nice now and you can definitely find a decent one bedroom at your price point, and 10 minutes or so from the airport. Because honestly anything else that's going to be super convenient for the airport, you're talking $2k and up for a studio. Some of the new luxury buildings downtown and in the Seaport are very nice, of course, but probably $500 to $700 more a month than what you're shooting for. You can still find stuff for $1800, for sure, but you'd have to be looking more like 45 minutes away from the airport, and probably a couple transfers in the bargain.
posted by maggiepolitt at 8:47 PM on August 1, 2014

You're going to have more luck seeking places along commuter rail lines about 30 minutes outside of South or North Station for Sept 1st.

I wouldn't consider anything immediately surrounding Boston under your circumstances, but if you look to the North and South shores or Metrowest you will have more luck on a month to month lease and more luck on a better apartment. The market where I am north of Boston by 30 minutes is completely different from the cutthroat Boston one. You will likely get a better apartment with greater lease flexibility and not necessarily a difference in commute depending on the line, etc.
posted by zizzle at 9:10 AM on August 3, 2014

Response by poster: I ended up using a broker and got a great place downtown in my budget.

My big lesson to share with others: leasing agents here don't take personal checks for the first/last/deposit/fee even with a stellar credit report, credit score and proof-of-income: they want cash, money orders or cashier checks, period. I didn't realize my national bank chain doesn't have a branch in Boston (just ATMs), so I was completely SOL. Luckily, I found a landlord willing to take the check after much rending of garments, showing of bank balances, resumes, references, etc. but it was touch-and-go for a while there.
posted by smirkette at 12:31 PM on September 1, 2014

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