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How to Find an Apartment in Boston [Guide]

By: Susan Finch and Justin Chaplin
January 6, 2020

Planning out a move to Beantown? Not sure how to find an apartment in Boston? The apartment hunt is one of the first steps to moving. Searching for apartments in Boston can be taxing, and moving to a new city can make the process even more stressful.

Follow this guide and you’ll find a Boston apartment in no time.

Research Boston Neighborhoods

Living in Boston is a unique experience, and the neighborhoods reflect that. On one corner you might find historic neighborhoods decked with brownstones and bustling with college students. On another corner, you’ll find young professionals walking high-rise-lined streets.

Before you start hunting for your Boston apartment, learn the lay of the land. Research and decide which Boston neighborhood is best for your lifestyle. Here are some of the more popular choices of neighborhoods among Boston renters.

1. Back Bay

Boston’s Back Bay features iconic brownstone-lined streets, boutiques, art galleries, trendy cafes, and the beloved Public Garden. Once a swamp area some 200 years ago, the neighborhood is now a wildly popular destination.

Back Bay doesn’t have a public school. Local kids head beyond the neighborhood borders, or their parents flee to the suburbs.

The neighborhood is safe with a strong police force keeping an eye on locals and tourists. Back Bay is ideal for well-heeled locals who can afford the high rents and don’t mind the lack of parking. Just hop on the Green or Orange line to see the rest of Boston.

2. South End

Live in the middle of it all in the South End against a backdrop of historic architecture and homes. Millennials and new graduates love the South End for its lively pubs, seasonal farmer’s markets, and cultural diversity like the SoWa Art & Design District.

Luxury condos and apartments are the norm in the South End. So are Victorian red-brick row houses with postcard-sized gardens.

Young families set up shop in South End. However, safety can be an issue around the nearby Boston Medical Center. With proximity to the MBTA Orange Line, you can get most anywhere you want to be in Boston.

3. Beacon Hill

Visit Acorn Street in Beacon Hill, and you’ll likely recognize it as one of the most photographed streets in the US. Head out for a day of antique and homeware shopping on Charles Street. You can also stop by Cheers for a beer.

Take the Red Line to and from the neighborhood. Enjoy the rest of what Boston has to offer.

Locals love Beacon Hill for its central location, safe reputation, and rich history, including the Massachusetts State House and Boston Common. The neighborhood is home to students from Suffolk University and other surrounding colleges, as well as doctors, lawyers, and politicians like John Kerry. Make yourself right at home in single-family homes, apartment complexes, or condos.

4. Charlestown

Across the Charles River from downtown Boston, Charlestown blends its Revolutionary War history with urban amenities in one of the best neighborhoods in Boston. Families and professionals walk their dogs through the neighborhood’s Freedom Trail and make the most of the outdoors.

At night, pub-hopping is popular along Main Street and in City Square before gas lamps come on and illuminate the neighborhood.

Charlestown offers apartments, condos, and single-family houses for locals looking to settle into this historic neighborhood. Take the bus or Orange Line to get to Charlestown for a relatively easy commute.

The area is considered safe. However, it has experienced its ups and downs over the years. Using caution at night is advisable.

5. Cambridge

The picture-perfect Cambridge is home to Harvard University, the MIT Museum, numerous cafes, bookstores, and restaurants. Although it’s technically its own city and not a Boston neighborhood, it’s still a popular spot for those moving to the Boston area.

You’ll find Cambridge residents and students gathered around the heart of Cambridge, Harvard Square. Here you’ll find shopping and spirited street performances while being surrounded by historic buildings and the beautiful campus.

Locals have their choice of new apartment complexes, historic townhouses, and condos nestled around major corridors and hubs. Take the Red Line, Green Line Trolley, bus, or walk anywhere you want to go.

6. North End

Paul Revere called the North End home before it was the hip Boston neighborhood it is today. Filled with mouth-watering Italian eateries and old-school pastry shops, the North End is convenient to Downtown Boston and the waterfront.

While the neighborhood maintains its distinct Italian-American culture, it has also become increasingly popular with young professionals who enjoy strolling with their pups and families through the North End and meet at parks, cafes, playgrounds, and the famed Freedom Trail. The North End’s architecture is diverse. Locals have their pick of row houses with a European feel and modern apartment complexes alike.

You can take the Green Line B, Green Line C, or bus line. However, walking might get you there faster and help you feel safer while doing it.

7. Brookline

Just minutes from Boston, Brookline is another hot area. Similar to Cambridge, Brookline is a standalone town and not actually a Boston neighborhood. However, Brookline is a short 5-mile commute to Boston.

Brookline locals gather at pubs along Washington Square and Coolidge Corner. The area is also home to several historic districts. They’re protected from design changes and various development projects.

Despite some of its unique rules, Brookline still boasts a wide variety of condos and apartment buildings. The town’s excellent public schools are also a draw for Boston’s families. Take the Green Line D or buses to and from Brookline or walk to where you need to go.

Determine Your Budget

Boston is a desirable city for many with its rich history and booming job market. Unsurprisingly, Boston’s apartment market is competitive which drives up rent rates.

Median rents in Boston currently stand at $1,720 for a one-bedroom apartment. A two-bedroom apartment will run you around $2,133 a month. If you find a great deal, don’t be afraid to strike fast!

Remember, if you are signing a month to month lease or short-term lease in Boston, your rent rates will go up.

Use the 30% Rule

The 30% rule insists that your monthly rent does not go above 30% of your gross monthly income. To get a general idea of how much you should make to rent an apartment in Boston, we can use the 30% rule compared to the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment.

Plan to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment priced at the median rent of $1,720? Then you should aim to gross at least $5,733 a month. That’s $68,800 a year.

If you plan on living with a roommate in a two-bedroom apartment priced at the median rent of $2,133, you and your roommate should aim to gross a combined $7,110 a month. That’s $85,320 a year. If you need some extra help, try using our rent calculator.

The True Cost of Renting

If you find an apartment in Boston that you think is within budget, factor in all of the extra costs. Be aware of the costs of renting an apartment that people often forget. 

  • Security Deposit: The standard security deposit is one month’s rent. However, that can vary from property to property. Remember, if you take care of your apartment, you should get this back.
  • Pet Fees: Looking for a pet-friendly apartment? Prepare to pay additional costs. Most apartment buildings require some form of a pet deposit, pet fees, or pet rent.
  • Parking: Does your apartment building come with a reserved parking spot? That will likely tack on extra fees to your monthly rent. 
  • Amenities: Can you get rid of your gym membership if your apartment complex offers a gym? An apartment with great amenities can cut down some of your usual living expenses.

When is the Best Time to Look for an Apartment in Boston?

Before you get to figuring out “how to find an apartment in Boston”, there is another important question to answer – “when is the best time to start apartment hunting.”

For renters, December and January are typically the best times of the year to move to a new apartment because the apartment rental market is slower.

The summer months are the most popular moving times. As a result, moving in the wintertime could land you some great deals as landlords look to fill their units.

However, more leases end during the summer. So, you’ll have a larger selection during that time.

Commuting in Boston

Although it’s ranked the third most walkable city in the country, commuting throughout Boston can be a bit intimidating. Make sure to consider your commute before signing the lease on an apartment. 

If you can walk to work, consider the savings it’ll bring you. If you need to take public transit daily, factor those costs into your budget. 

Public Transportation in Boston

You’re going to want to get familiar with the MBTA, more commonly referred to as “The T” by locals. The T is most commonly associated with the widely used subway system, which is the oldest in the country.  However, the MBTA also operates a robust system of boats, buses, and trolleys.

Needless to say, you can get around Boston just fine without a car. However, the abundance of subway lines and bus options can be confusing. 
You’re going to want to get familiar with the MBTA maps and schedules. Oh, and if you’re commuting on public transit often, make sure to get a Charlie Card. That’ll save you both time and money.

Ready to Find an Apartment in Boston?

Have you found the perfect neighborhood, mapped out your future commute, and gotten your budget air-tight? Now all you need to do is find your future home!

Apartment List is here to match you with the perfect apartment that fits all your criteria. Instead of paying a real estate agent, simply click on the button below and answer a few questions about your apartment preferences. Then, we’ll show you all the Boston apartments that match what you’re looking for!

Applying for your Boston apartment

So now that you figured out how to find an apartment in Boston and have a shortlist of rental properties that meet your requirements, it’s time to tour and apply!

Make sure to visit the apartment before signing a lease. Seeing the unit in person and meeting your potential landlord will make your decision much easier.

There are a few important questions to ask before renting an apartment. Make sure you prepare those before your tour.

Bring your materials with you on your apartment tours! If you fall in love with a unit the second you step in, you’re going to want to secure it ASAP.

Make sure you have cash, credit cards, or a checkbook to pay for the application. Have your ID, proof of income, and a few references ready. Landlord references are preferred.

However, if you have no previous rental history, personal references will suffice. If you’re new to renting, get familiar with the apartment application process.

Be Aware of Rental Scams

According to a report by Apartment List, 34.1% of Boston renters have encountered fraudulent apartment listings. 7% of those have lost money due to rental scams. Remember to stay vigilant and follow these tips for avoiding rental scams.

Last but not least, happy apartment hunting! Here's to a beautiful new apartment and life in Boston!

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