"Boston is actually the capital of the world. You didn't know that? We breed smart-ass, quippy, funny people." (-John Krasinski). Read Guide >
Big complexes with sprawling courtyards, dog parks, and pools? Nope; Bostonians, and even those in neighboring suburbs would scoff at that vision. It’s high rises, duplexes, triplexes, and multi-unit buildings comprising dozens of architectural styles that illuminate the Boston renter's scene. Like many historic cities, these buildings often possess some features that would be considered outdated by many of today's safety standards, but are grandfathered under historic commission rules and/or practical limitations. With such an array of rental choices, policies vary widely. Terms, deposits, pets, and inclusions are anybody's guess and can diverge even within an individual building. Ask, ask again, and then make sure you get it in writing. Bostonians are a colorful folk with a deserved reputation for…let’s just say, “business playfulness”.
Parking: One word of wisdom - fugeddaboutit. If your building includes parking, it's probably going to be for a vehicle that sees the valet more than its owner, so bully for you. The rest of Boston must jostle, cajole, sneak, and strategize for their rare parking pearls. Thus, Boston is one of the nation's premier cities in which to ditch the ride. Between the costs of renting a space, the meters and tickets if you don't, the snow removal, the traffic, and the higher than average automobile user fees (inspection, registration, and that festering little disease called excise tax - a recurring annual charge based on you car's estimated value), and an exceptional and far reaching public transportation system, get rid of it - more money for Sam Adams and steamers.
Boston is not a large city geographically, but like any major metropolis, it houses a lot of hoods. Home to a (measly) forty-three colleges and universities, you can plan on your neighbors being students, really smart, or both. Using the diminutive downtown as the "hub" (that's the single word real Bostonians call their city) and in basic descending order of price (with as many exceptions as there are politicians with cocktails), here’s a renter’s look at Boston’s historic nabes:
Back Bay: Nestled between the public garden (Boston Common), The Charles, and Kenmore Square, the Back Bay is home to Newbury Street, Boston's most fashionable district. Take a leisurely two-mile stroll from the western outskirts of the Back Bay and you'll reach Brookline, the very tony, upscale "village" where you can expect to pay around $1,750 - $2,500 for a 1 BR apartment. The Fenway and The South End are subsets of the Back Bay and are exciting urban areas with just as much in the way of public transit. Expect to pay around $200 - $700 less for comparably sized apartments.
Charlestown: Possibly Boston's most insular neighborhood. Charlestown steadfastly holds on to its roots in history and is the home to Bunker Hill and The U.S.S. Constitution - the U.S. Navy's oldest commissioned ship. Charlestown wasn't always the most welcoming place but has seen fierce upscale redevelopment in the past two decades. Now Charlestown is a sort of bedroom community to Downtown Boston - which happens to be just about a mile away. $1,700 - $2,400 for a 1 BR.
Beacon Hill: Home to some of Boston's most exclusive addresses. Private parks, gas lamps, wrought iron gates, tree lined streets, and meticulously maintained homes really do exude the "George Washington Slept Here" feel of America's earliest days. Think Epcot meets The American Revolution. $1,600 - $2,200 for a 1 BR.
Cambridge: Harvard, MIT and Squares galore (of both the library lounger and geometric variety – we’re referring mostly to the latter). That's how Cambridge is divided - Harvard Square, Kendall Square, Inman Square, and Central Square. The Cambridge neighborhoods are the most ethnically diverse in all of Boston, with throngs of the world’s brightest students and teachers mingling with one another in America's intellectual Hippodrome. As such, expect the widest variety of food, markets, cultural activities, and languages spoken. $1,600 - $2,200 for a 1 BR. Inman and Central squares are nominally less as they are slightly farther from their respective mega-institutes of higher learning.
South Boston: The home of the best Bawstuhn accents and many legendary and/or infamous members of Boston's political, religious, business, and crime realms, South Boston is a tough yet forgiving place. Its roots are mostly Irish, and Southie is supremely proud of that heritage. Churches, corner shops, kids playing in small parks and the iconic working class life you know from the movies – these are the pictures of Southie. These images are quickly changing though as gentrification is having it’s way with Southie at a rate more rapid than in any other Boston ‘hood. $1,500 - $2,100 for a 1 BR. 2 BR apartments here are comparatively more reasonable than most other sections of Boston.
North End: Boston's predominantly Italian neighborhood, where the language can still be heard on street corners and in the dozens upon dozens of Italian specialty shops, cafés, and restaurants. The North End is quaint and safe and is within easy walking distance to Boston's financial district, Faneuil Hall, and City Hall. $900 - $1,100 for a studio (common in the North End), $1,400 - $1,900 for a 1 BR.
East Boston: Located close to the airport with easy access to Massachusetts' North Shore, Eastie has long been the spot where Boston's newest immigrants first settle. This part of the city has less entertainment and dining than the other ‘hoods, but boasts wonderful views of the harbor and skyline as well as some of the most affordable rents in the city. $1,000 - $1,400 for a 1 BR.
Until you learn the neighborhoods, don't talk politics, sports, or religion. Once you do, talk away, you're expected to have an opinion - as long as it's the right one.
Although Boston's population rings in at just over 600,000 (less than New York's Bronx), as a commuter region, it reaches as far as New Hampshire and Rhode Island, making it - at 7.5 million - the fifth largest in the U.S. The key ingredients that make this town kick are its extensive universities and hospital networks, and a healthy and growing biotech industry. The secret to this town, however, is in its walkable, intimate, character-rich feel. At only 2.6 square miles, Boston could be strolled in a single day, but being a city built on old cowpaths, it is winding and rich with hidden gems and discoveries.
The residents of this town - and indeed the region - are slow to warm up to strangers, but enthusiastic and loyal once a relationship is established. It is worth mental note that, in winter, you can expect people to be rushed and brusque, but in summer, the New England reserve takes a vacation, and folks are more apt to chat and relax.
Your experience in Boston has everything to do with which neighborhoods you want to live in and explore. Powerful city development groups have put significant money and pressure behind full-service gated and tower communities, many of which are strategically located at key commuter junctions. These offer a sense of stability and security, but one must then be bold to tap the city's other pockets and hollows for their remarkable local pride and flavor. There remain a wealth of options in the more modest and authentically local range of row-house brownstones, subdivided Victorians, and triple deckers, but it's important to gain a walking feel for a neighborhood to see whether it's too loud or quiet, dirty or sterile, hasty or friendly, for your taste. This city's neighborhoods have evolved over time in a remarkable range of directions.
Pros •Very Walkable! •Strong ethnic pride and character by neighborhood •Terrific cultural treasures (music and art)
Cons •Parking can be very expensive •Crowded travel at peak hours •Nightlife closes early (2 am)
The People - Who Lives Here?
Boston is home to a bewildering density of students. This phenomenon brings a huge cultural wealth (art, music, films, lectures) to Boston, and adds a merry and often chaotic note to life here. It also generates a degree of chronic transiency to student-centered neighborhoods. Boston is a magnet for people from all over the world - over 25% of its residents were born abroad - and the intricate networks of support between language and culture are the life's blood of its diverse neighborhoods.
Social Scene - Bars, clubs, restaurants
Boston is by no means a cousin to Manhattan. Social life here quiets down at midnight and is sound asleep by two, but its strength is in the fondness and attachment of residents to all their favorite local haunts. Boston is brimming with restaurants and cafes, and in summer, its street artists and free music concerts. A certain persistence in seeking and finding one's own favorite places to go and meet will be well-rewarded.
The Value - Rental prices vs. quality of living
Cost of living in Boston is high when measured against national averages. This includes most notably prices to rent and to buy a home, and less so the cost of food and retail shopping. Wages (which typically start at $10 per hour) and salaries tend to accommodate this trend, but the hardest part for new residents tends to be putting together first-and-last rent deposits or down payments.
Transportation & Traffic
Here it is critical to be strategic. Travel by car is painfully slow and difficult to predict by day, and smooth and swift at night. The city is by no means designed on any kind of a grid, and so the use of a good map is crucial to navigating its winding and confusing streets, which are fraught with one-ways and sudden terminuses. Living close to high-service public transportation (the Red, Orange, and Blue line subways are strong) makes a significant difference in the quality of daily life. The 3-pronged Green Line is frequent, but crowded, cramped, and slow -- it travels the street trolley-style in the same traffic as autos. Buses service an extensive range of neighborhoods, but are often infrequent and are stuck in that self-same auto traffic. Lots of residents choose to walk or bicycle, and make use of the city's lovely park networks to travel in style.
Rental Advice & Tips
Take your time. The fastest moving rentals and real estate, and the flashiest, most obvious industry behind these ventures, represent the most transient properties. Given the huge volume of students who move in and out of Boston with the summer and academic year cycle, there are a lot of quick 'n dirty opportunists making fast money from young folks who simply need a place to crash. Curiously, it is notoriously difficult to rent a place well in advance: par for the course in Boston is that rentals post within three months or less of intended re-occupancy. This means you need to plan to dedicate serious, focused time and correspondence to research the neighborhoods that compel your interest. Use rentwiki, craigslist, and yelp to gain familiarity with your options. And it is essential to visit both the property and its precinct when you are at leisure to explore extensively by foot. Boston is full of sweet rentals, if you can extend the effort to find something in tune with your personality and needs.
Entertainment & Recreation - Things to do
Restaurants and parks are a great way to discover Boston's real neighborhoods. Use the Phoenix and the Dig newspapers to keep up on the rich arts and music scene in town. Boston is also poised between a gorgeous range of regional opportunities, including the coasts north and south, the woods and mountains to the west, and the New England splendor of its neighboring states. There are great beaches, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, small-town day trips, stadium concerts, and city festivals if you are adventurous enough to travel.
Great place to Live. Excellent restaurants and bars, there is a reason so many families choose to stay here. The best schools and hospitals in the country. A very young and fun city. -Fatcoop