'Cause everything is rent
March 31, 2016 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Trying to find an apartment in the Boston area is pretty tough. I search Craigslist and PadMapper for rental listings once a day at least. Then, yesterday, I had the thought of asking a local parenting listserve and received some great responses. What are some other unusual or alternative ways to search for (no broker fee) apartments in Cambridge, MA?

We'd like to stick to Cambridge for the local public schools. I'm not affiliated with any of the local universities. Our timing is flexible as we aren't on a lease right now, so we can afford to take the time to look around and come at this from several angles.

Broker fees are exorbitant and we're hoping to avoid them, but we also don't love apartment buildings and would prefer an apartment in a triple-decker or something like that. Are there other mailing lists I should try? Another website like Craigslist where owners post listings directly? A bulletin board somewhere that's full of apartment listings? Should I say "Cambridge apartments" backwards into my mirror nine times?

Thanks for any tips you may have!
posted by woodvine to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What issue are you having with Craigslist? You can specifically look at no-fee only listings - are you not liking what you see?

I totally hear you on the broker fees - it is an absolute travesty that they are so common in the Boston area. I found my last Boston area apartment (in Belmont, but I was looking at Cambridge too) in a triple decker by only looking at the "no fee / apartments by owner" listings every day, and found our great apartment a few hours after it had been posted. The landlord was really small-time (it was her only building) and we were very happy living there.
posted by permiechickie at 9:02 AM on March 31, 2016

No particular issues with Craigslist, it's just that we haven't found what we wanted yet (using the no-fee filter), and I'm wondering if there are other places to search.
posted by woodvine at 9:06 AM on March 31, 2016

I'm not in Cambridge/Boston but when I was just looking for a place in Seattle, I had a lot of luck asking friends to post for me in their neighborhood's NextDoor communities and Facebook groups.

Also, I found my current apartment on Zillow, not craigslist. I found out that a lot of smaller landlords and management companies like to avoid craigslist if possible because it's terrible for them, too. The other thing was that I was looking at listings every single morning and responding as soon as I saw places with what I wanted. I wound up being the only person to apply for my apartment, and the Seattle market is just as competitive as Cambridge.
posted by lunasol at 9:19 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

We've moved within Cambridge three times in the last three years--I hear you on how hard it is. (Especially when so much of the market goes on September 1st. If your timing is REALLY flexible, you'll have a lot more options if you can wait to move until then, and start looking in earnest around June.)

Beyond cambridge-families, we've had some luck with simply telling EVERYONE WE KNOW what we're looking for. Use Facebook and any work discussion list you have access to at work, chat with your kids' teachers, etc. People often line up someone to take over their lease so that the apartment isn't even listed publicly.
posted by cogitron at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've found my last two great apartments via Facebook and scooped them before they were ever listed on Craigslist. Do you have friends in the area who could post a little "great friend, very reliable, is seeking a 2-bedroom downtown" status for you?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:45 AM on March 31, 2016

Arlington has a "town" email list where apartments are occasionally posted, don't know if there is something like that in Cambridge. A web services nextdoor.com has local postings, I've been underwhelmed but you never know.
posted by sammyo at 9:47 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've seen small signs on apartment buildings, perhaps traverse the area, there may be a small niche of apartment owners that want to avoid brokers and craigslist. The last one I remember was on a walk between porter sq and central sq.
posted by sammyo at 9:54 AM on March 31, 2016

Something a friend of mine (currently living in Boston) suggested is, if you are flexible on time, actively seeking out places that don't list photos. Most people don't even bother looking at them because you'll have to check them out in person which means that the competition is much lower and often the issue is just that the poster is not particularly tech-savvy which might help you if you're looking for smaller buildings.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:05 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

Two things have worked for me:

The "for rent by owner" craigslist listings tend to set you up with people who own properties in which they both live and rent. You're avoiding realtors, and I've found that you end up dealing primarily with older women who own one property, rather than property managers with an entire portfolio.

NextDoor has been really useful for me. I'm on a neighborhood list in JP, and I occasionally get "hey, we'd like to rent our in-law out if you know anyone" messages, and I was able to find an apartment for a friend at WAY below market rate by just asking the group. (The owner lives in the same building, wants at least a passing reference on the renter, and hates realtors with a burning passion) If you can get onto a listserv for the neighborhoods you're looking at, great! Otherwise, do you know anyone who's on one?
posted by Mayor West at 10:13 AM on March 31, 2016

The Tufts off-campus housing page is a hidden gem.
posted by Dashy at 10:33 AM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've lived in Cambridge for nearly 15 years. I found my favorite rental by walking around, seeing buildings I liked, and looking for the management company sign on them. I picked up the phone and gave them a call. If they don't have a unit available in that building, they're usually happy to tell you about other buildings they run (and management companies around here all tend to manage the same "type" of building). Some of them will also be willing to suggest other management companies to speak with.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2016

I've lived in Cambridge (now with a kid) for 12 years and I've always found apartments via Craigslist-by-owner. I've lived in a triple-decker house with 4-6 apartments the whole time. The problem right now is that it's not June or September. Typically landlords ask for 2 months notice from tenants, and the 2 major changeover points are June and September. So, I would actually expect that a whole bunch of apartments will go up on Craigslist in the next 2-3 weeks as landlords here that their tenants will be leaving and start posting ads.

I've also tried Zillow and various local real estate companies and it's been a totally miserable experience every time. Housing is so extraordinarily expensive and competitive that agents can do basically no work at all for the client and then get a huge fee.

Honestly we're trying to LEAVE Cambridge (probably for Belmont, our kid is a toddler and therefore not in public school) because the housing costs are crushing us. But when we move, we'll go right back to Craigslist-by-owner.
posted by Cygnet at 11:06 AM on March 31, 2016

When I first moved back to the area, I sent a friend who was a Harvard student into the housing office with a pen and paper and directions to write down everything in my price range. Apparently there are quite a few ads posted in there from professors renting out houses, apartments, etc. I'm not sure if the setup is the same all this time, but this method found me the housing I lived in for the next decade.
posted by instead of three wishes at 11:40 AM on March 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

A lot of universities in the area have housing offices; some even have their offerings online.


you get the idea.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:25 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

A friend found her apartment on craigslist when she bought a couch from someone, then asked if the apartment was going to be for rent. When I was apartment-hunting last year I searched craigslist for couches for sale, and I did find a couple of promising apartments (that hadn't been listed yet!) that way. I really was shopping for a couch (wouldn't want to waste people's time), but very often people who are selling their sofa are getting ready to move. And as an added bonus, if you buy the couch and rent the apartment, you don't have to move the couch!
posted by bonheur at 6:50 AM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

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