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 Like many historic cities, these buildings often possess some features that would be considered outdated by many of today's construction standards, but are grandfathered under historic commission rules and/or practical limitations.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 and business 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 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.