One of the Eastern Seaboard’s most charming and eclectic cities, Portland, Maine has been called “America’s Most Livable City” (Forbes.com), the “Coolest Small City in America” (GQ), and one of the U.S.’s “Top Travel Destinations” (Frommer’s). You’d think it would be hard to live up to your reputation with that many accolades, but clearly you haven’t been to Portland. It’s got pretty much anything you could ask for, by which I primarily mean proximity to amazing lobster.
There’s more to Portland than great Maine lobster, however. With a wide range of historic and refurbished rentals catering to tenants with a variety of tastes, it just so happens that this city is also a great place to score the apartment of your dreams. But before you hit the streets and scour the interwebs in search of a dynamite Portland apartment, you may want to equip yourself with all the wit and wisdom (terms used loosely)you’ll ever need to blend in with the 500,000 proud Maineites who call the Portland metro area home…
Portland is a city dominated by renters, with leasers outnumbering homeowners by roughly 15 percent. Apartments are readily available throughout town and waiting lists are rare, though not unheard of, so shop the market carefully before deciding which dwellings are best for you. A few other quick pieces of advice to ponder:
Of all the city’s many charms, bargain-bin affordability isn’t one of them. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a 2BR pad for under $1000, while even basic 1BR units usually go in the $900 range and modest studios (shoebox sized) are likely to cost $800 or more. If you dig hard enough, you’ll find some decent deals, but don’t expect many landlords to serve up tons of jaw-dropping move-in specials. Sad for you, profitable for them. O’ cruel world!
Roughly 80 percent of all properties in Portland were built prior to 1970 and nearly half of those sprouted up before 1940. Many rentals have been converted from industrial buildings and grand estates into high rise apartments and duplexes, so if you’re looking for an ultramodern, cookie cutter rental (what are you, loco?), you’re out of luck in Portland. Of course, older properties tend to have more warts and blemishes than newer ones, so be sure to give your apartment a thorough inspection before settling in.
The city’s official motto is “I Will Rise Again,” which alludes to the fact that Portland has been forced to rebuild from four massive fires over the years. If you believe history has a way of repeating itself, as you should because it’s true, you should really consider renter’s insurance. It typically costs only $200-300 a year in Maine and protects your valuables in case of fire, theft, flooding, or alien invasion. Emphasis on the fire.
It’s not difficult to find pet-friendly, short-term, or pre-furnished apartments in Portland, but many landlords have drastically different rules regarding everything from smoking and visitors to roommates and barbecue pits. Save yourself some time and do some preliminary research about an apartment before scheduling a walkthrough. Also, you should know that many landlords include utilities in the price of rent, but some don’t allow tenants to alter their thermostats. What is this, Franco’s Spain? Bear in mind that if you prefer your living space extra cozy during the winter months, you should read your lease carefully to see who has control over your room’s temperature before agreeing to it.
The good news is that Portland is pretty much devoid of the high-crime danger zones that plague many American cities. The bad news is that the city boasts such a wide range of high-quality ‘hoods that you might have some trouble picking just one that fits your style. There are a few areas that are standout favorites to Maineites old and new, however:
Interested in living among a high concentration of artists, students, and young, hip urbanites? Check out one of the chic studios, lofts, or apartments here. They’ll usually go for between $800 and $1200 but put you in the middle of nightlife central. There’s major cool factor here, so get ready to impress your new friends.
Got the bankroll for a spacious luxury pad with tantalizing skyline views? Renovated buildings in this area north of downtown offer ocean views and amenities galore. If you’ve hit the big time, or just want to look like you have, Back Cove is where you need to be.
The West End is one of the city’s most liberal, ethnically diverse, and architecturally stunning neighborhoods. It sits in the downtown area and was recently listed as one of the best preserved Victorian neighborhoods in the country, so if you love grandma’s house but need to be close to poppin’ nightlife (not so much, Grandma), West End is a great spot. Be sure to check the condition of properties here thoroughly due to their age. Prices will vary tremendously here with 1 bedrooms starting at $650 and ranging up to $1500.
Other popular areas include the recently annexed Deering ‘burbs, generally geared more towards families than yuppies, the lower-income Sagamore Village area, and the formerly maligned, much-storied Parkside neighborhood. Our advice: Don’t rely on second hand information alone to find the best area for you. Spend plenty of time in the city to see with your own eyes which part of Portland floats your boat.
The METRO city buses run an extremely limited number of routes, so unless you don’t mind being about as mobile as a geriatric snail, you’ll need your own set of wheels to bum around town. Only the Arts District and the Old Port area are walker-friendly, and even though most neighborhoods have bike lanes, we wouldn’t exactly recommend relying on the good old two-wheeler during the frigid winter months. Fortunately, the streets of Portland are pretty easy to navigate, even though traffic can get tedious on I-95 during afternoon rush hour.
Oh and while you’re packing your bags, don’t forget to bring your hearty appetite, since Portland is widely considered the “Foodiest Small Town in America” and hosts a slew of annual food and drink festivals highlighting cuisines from all over the world. The key to happiness in Portland: eating at least one Italian sandwich at Amato’s each week, followed by a microbrew (or five, but who’s counting?) at Gritty McDuff’s, the Sebago, or the Shipyard Brewing Company. But I digress…
One of the best aspects of living in Portland is that you’ll never get bored, whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. The Old Port area downtown is dotted with restaurants, bars, and boutiques that are tailor made for sidewalk surfers, tourists, and curiosity seekers. The city is also home to a high concentration of microbreweries, art galleries, and museums (mostly in the perpetually hopping Arts District). Three minor league teams play in Portland, 11 golf courses are spread throughout the area, and numerous historic sites, trails, and parks, including the celebrated Eastern Promenade, can be enjoyed as well. Basically, you can’t beat it with a stick.
And now it’s time for the fun part: finding you the perfect homestead in Portland! Welcome aboard and happy hunting!