There Are No Cheap Apartments in Boston


Posted in Intro to the Boston Rental Market, Boston Rental Playbook

That's right — there are no cheap apartments in Boston. 

With that knowledge, you're officially ready to start your apartment search.

Why did I just crush your dreams with that sad news? 

I don't mean to take the wind out of your sails — quite the opposite! I just want to prepare you for what's ahead so you can outsmart your competition (i.e. other renters who will want the same apartment that you'll want).

I've seen too many renters dive headfirst into their apartment search in Boston with lofty ambitions, but no strategy. Their dreams of getting a beautiful one-bedroom apartment with a view of the river, skylight and fireplace for $600/month faded away when they realized that: 1) that apartment doesn't exist in the first place, and 2) the only way to pay $600/month in Boston is if you have four roommates. 

Here's why "cheap apartments" aren't a real thing in Boston.

For starters, about 45% of renters in Boston are technically "cost-burdened" (i.e. paying more than 30% of their income on rent). And a recent article in The Boston Globe (3/18/15) showed that "more than one in four renters devote half their salaries to housing."

cheap apartments in boston

Source: NYU Furman Center

Secondly, Boston is one of the most expensive rental markets in the U.S. So "cheap" has a different meaning herejust check out the two graphics below.

For context, the average monthly rent for an apartment in Boston is a little over $2,100. We've broken down average rents by neighborhood as well.

 

cheap apartments in boston

Source: The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2014-2015

Least Affordable United States Rental Markets

Ouch. 

So, here's what looking for a "cheap apartment in Boston" entails.

Look for no-fee apartments, roommates and undervalued neighborhoods.

Armed with that knowledge, we're here to tell you that finding the "cheap" apartments in Boston is about being smart with your search, not about "tips and tricks" to find hidden gems. Even before you go about scouting for apartments and neighborhoods, consider these two money-savers.

1. No-fee/by-owner apartments (save 8%)

When you find an apartment in Boston through a broker, typically you'll sign a document (the fee disclosure agreement) agreeing to pay one month's rent when you sign a lease. That's effectively paying an additional 8% in annual housing costs upfront. So if you want to find cheap apartments in Boston, start by avoiding brokers — but I'll warn you that it's definitely not easy to find a no fee apartment in Boston.

I'll note that because of the crucial service that brokers and agents provide to landlords in Boston, that it's also very difficult to find a by-owner apartment. 

2. Roommates (save 25-53%)

cheap apartments in boston

The more people, the lower the rent (per person). Here's the breakdown of average rents by apartment size:

  • Average rent for studios and 1BR in Boston (per person): $1,734
  • Average rent for 2BR in Boston (per person): $1,297 = 25% less than 1BR
  • Average rent for 3BR in Boston (per person): $1,034 = 40% less than 1BR
  • Average rent for 4BR in Boston (per person): $805 = 53% less than 1BR

Take a deeper look at the real value of roommates in Boston — we also have some tips on how to find roommates too.

Using these two methods lets you shop for apartments in pricier neighborhoods, while still enjoying [somewhat] manageable housing costs.

If you'd prefer to fly solo, here are the most affordable neighborhoods in Boston.

Here are the cheapest neighborhoods by average rent per person (from lowest to highest):

Dorchester — $708 per person

Rent Breakdown: The average rent in Hyde Park is about $1,900 — according to RentMetrics. With an average household size (for renter-occupied units) of 2.68 people, the average per person rent in Roxbury is roughly $708. Apartment Breakdown: In Dorchester, 65.6% of the housing units are renter occupied, slightly lower than the average 66.1% across Boston.*

Note: Dorchester is also (currently) one of the the safest neighborhoods in Boston here by crime rate.

Mattapan — $725 per person

Rent Breakdown: The average rent in Mattapan is about $1,850 — according to RentMetrics. With an average household size (for renter-occupied units) of 2.55 people, the average per person rent in Roxbury is roughly $725. Apartment Breakdown: In Mattapan, 60.2% of the housing units are renter occupied, lower than the average 66.1% across Boston.*

Hyde Park — $778 per person

Rent Breakdown: The average rent in Hyde Park is about $1,900 — according to RentMetrics. With an average household size (for renter-occupied units) of 2.44 people, the average per person rent in Roxbury is roughly $778. Apartment Breakdown: In Hyde Park, 42.0% of the housing units are renter occupied, well below the average 66.1% across Boston.*

Roslindale — $836 per person

Rent Breakdown: The average rent in Roslindale is about $2,000 -- according to RentMetrics. With an average household size (for renter-occupied units) of 2.39 people, the average per person rent in Roxbury is roughly $836. Apartment Breakdown: In Roslindale, 50.0% of the housing units are renter occupied, well below the average 66.1% across Boston.*

Roxbury — $948 per person 

Rent Breakdown: The average rent in Roxbury is about $2,400 -- according to RentMetrics. With an average household size (for renter-occupied units) of 2.53 people, the average per person rent in Roxbury is roughly $948. Apartment Breakdown: In Roxbury, 80.4% of the housing units are renter occupied, the second highest in Boston behind Fenway.

West Roxbury — $970 per person

Rent Breakdown: The average rent in Hyde Park is about $2,000 -- according to RentMetrics. With an average household size (for renter-occupied units) of 2.06 people, the average per person rent in West Roxbury is roughly $970. Apartment Breakdown: In West Roxbury, only 36.4% of the housing units are renter occupied, the second lowest in Boston.* *Source: Boston in Context - Neighborhoods

Understand your odds of finding an apartment in specific neighborhoods.

Jacob, one of our awesome software engineers, built a tool that tells you where you'll have good odds of finding an apartment in your price range.

This tool breaks down neighborhoods in the Boston area by price and availability of apartments. Since it's already a grind to find good data on apartments in specific neighborhoods, we only feature neighborhoods where we have rock-solid information (that's why you'll see a limited selection of neighborhoods).

Check out the tool below and read more about how it works here.

Want to learn a little more about Boston's rental market?

Our goal at Jumpshell is to give you the most honest representation of what finding an apartment in Boston is like and give you a plan of attack to beat the competition. That way you'll know exactly what you're getting into and can enjoy the process a lot more — especially if you follow our step-by-step process to get through as quickly and cost-effectively as possible with the best result.

So, bottom line — Boston is expensive, even for "run-of-the-mill" apartments. Now you're ready to get started. Here's a "table of contents" that lays out all the resources we've put together and how they can help you out:

  • Get Help Finding an Apartment — going it alone is tough in Boston. We'll offer some insights on how to tap your personal and professional networks in Boston to help you find an apartment.
  • Make the Move to Boston — the home stretch! We'll guide you through some best practices for physically making the move to Boston.
  • Get Settled & Live in Boston — now that you've moved in, it's time to get settled. We'll walk you through the nitty-gritty of changing your address, getting a parking permit and other little errands to square away.

Continue reading below to get a little more color on the Boston rental market.

What exactly is going on in the Boston rental market?

Rents are high and on the rise in Boston.

We'll reiterate for the last time, but Boston has consistently been rated one of the least affordable rental markets in the United States. Just check out the numbers below:

cheap apartments in boston

We cover the average rent in Boston (by neighborhood) a few sections ahead for renters who are figuring out where to live. Feel free to jump ahead now!

Apartment availability is crammed into September.

According to Zillow, most of Boston's apartments turn over on September 1st  — 79% of the market to be exact. Just check out the visual below:

Image source: Zillow

Also, FYI: Over 2/3 of rentals listed in Boston are either 1BR or 2BR apartments — 36% and 35% of the market, respectively.

But how could this be?! Well, as you probably know, Boston is a serious "college town" — to the tune of 35 universities, colleges and community colleges with over 150,000 students enrolled (including 90,000 living off-campus). As such, it’s a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" scenario — if you’re looking for a September 1st lease date, so is everyone else. If you’re not, there isn’t much on the market. *sad trombone*

Demand for housing is enormous — and growing.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) is a regional planning agency serving the people who live and work in the 101 cities and towns of Metro Boston. Their mission is to promote smart growth and regional collaboration.

"Along with population growth of approximately 9.6% over the next three decades, the [MAPC] projects that the region will need 395,000 new housing units."

The image below shows projected housing growth in the "Inner Core" (essentially what you imagine when you think of the Greater Boston Area). Here's a graphic with the specifics.

Housing Unit Change, 2010-2030 (label shows percent change in housing units).

Housing Demand Map

You can find exceptional data visualizations like the ones above a metrobostondatacommon.org, which has a wealth of resources that transform the MAPC's research into easy-to-understand, visually compelling graphics. Here's the link to the Regional Map Gallery for Housing.

Boston is a top 3 "Walkable Urban Place" (WalkUP)

According to Smart Growth America — an advocacy group "for people who want to live and work in great neighborhoods" — wrote a report titled "Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros" in conjunction with The George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis that identifies the top 30 U.S. metropolitan areas WalkUPs and ranks them based on their current and future commercial real estate metrics.

Yes, and...?

It means that a TON of research went into calculating which cities in the U.S. are the most walkable urban environments and Boston ranked #3 in the U.S.!

Walkable Urbanism of 30 Largest US Metros

According to the report: "Metro Boston...experienced urbanization of its suburbs, primarily Cambridge, which contributed to its high ranking ."

Boston also ranks #1 on future walkable urban performance, meaning the report predicts that Boston will be the most favorable urban environment for walkability. Very cool.

Curious for more details? Download the full report here.

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