The average rent in Boston is high and rising — currently around $2,100/month.
Other than San Francisco and New York City, renting in Boston is an uncomparably expensive activity. The goal of this article is to help you understand rent prices in Boston (including at the neighborhood level), while also illustrating some of the market dynamics and trends that have caused Boston's rent prices to grow year-over-year like clockwork.
We wanted to make sure you were armed to the teeth with insight before you figure out where to live in Boston.
Rent prices in Boston haven't seen a decrease since 2009. Dang.
According to the most recent Greater Boston Housing Report Card, rents in Boston have risen in every single year since 2009 and in every single quarter since at least the beginning of 2012.
Why do rent prices continue to grow in Boston?
The short version: Property taxes keep climbing aggressively with property values.
The long version: Property tax assessments on Boston's iconic "triple decker" buildings rose an average of 11% in 2015. As this November 2015 article from the Boston Globe reports, "the higher tax bills reflect not only how much more valuable those properties have become for their owners, but also the soaring rents they command as more young professionals pour into traditionally working-class neighborhoods, from Dorchester to East Boston."
Property owners are battling the ethical dilemma of raising rents on already high-priced rental properties and the financial dilemma of using rental incomes as necessary supplemental income to offset tax bills (or as a perfectly legitimate means of building wealth).
Source: The Boston Globe
And to add to the bad news...
Technically, the real estate market in Boston is "fairly priced". Now, from the perspective of a renter who's paying an arm and a leg for rent, that may seem like a bizarre statement. However, real estate developers and investors are telling us that Boston is nowhere near a bubble on pricing. Real estate in Boston is not even close to being overvalued. How's that for crazy.
Here's a graphic from Quartz that shows just how far from being overvalued the Boston real estate market is.
The result? 67% of 1-bedroom apartments in Boston are priced over $2,000/month.
An article published in Bloomberb in October 2015 shows the sad state of affairs of rent prices in Boston:
And the icing on the cake: the vacancy rate in Boston is at an all-time low.
Renting in Boston is unlikely to get any cheaper anytime soon, if vacancy rates are any indication. The vacancy rate in Boston has dropped 50% over the past 5 years — yikes. Essentially, that means there is so much demand that only 2% of apartments aren't occupied. That's a staggeringly low figue, putting it on par with New York City.
OK, now that you understand the trends. What are the actual average rents in Boston?
Warning! There's a huge disparity in rent price data out there.
The image below shows why it's not easy to understand what rent prices are in Boston. These are three major Internet Listing Sites (ILS), essentially companies that pull together listings from agents and other listing sites. I took an "apples to apples" look at their rent price reports from March 2015. We see very different data from each:
- Median rent for 1-bedroom apartments in Boston — Zumper says it's $2,280 and Apartment List says it's $1,980. That's a $300/month disparity. Zillow doesn't break it down by apartment size.
- Median rent for 2-bedroom apartments in Boston — Zumper says it's $2,690 and Apartment List says it's $2,500. That's a $190/month disparity. Zillow doesn't break it down by apartment size.
- Median rent for all apartments in Boston — Zumper says it's $3,058*. Zillow says it's $2,480. That's nearly a $600/month disparity (woah!). Apartment List doesn't calculate median rent across all apartments.
*Zumper reports that the median rent for "All Bedrooms" (which I would interperet as the median rent per bedroom) is $1,390. Multiply that by the average occupancy of rental units in Boston (2.2) and you get $3,058.
And here's my new favorite in the "rent data is completely unreliable" trend.
A January 2016 article in US News & World Report claims that the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Boston is $2,957 (see below) — that's nearly $300 above what Apartment List says the average rent for a 2-bedroom is in Boston! Insane. For the record, Apartment List's estimate is far closer to the truth.
Good data is hard to find, but you can get it with this mini-app we made.
One of the talented engineers at Jumpshell built a simple tool for helping renters understand prices in different Boston neighborhoods.
Essentially, this can help you answer: "If I have a certain budget, what percent of apartments can I afford to rent in a certain neighborhood?” It’s not perfect — for example, it only includes certain neighborhoods — but I find it really useful for getting context about those neighborhoods.
And I’d argue that the data this app uses is the best in the Boston area. We use apartment information from YouGotListings, the most widely used rental management software for brokers and landlords in the Boston Area. Basically, it’s where information on most of the non-luxury apartments in Boston is stored and updated. Thanks YGL!
Or you can use this infographic as a guideline.
Jumpshell also put together this infographic to clearly show information about rent prices by neighborhood, by unit size and rent costs per person. We had to rely on cobbling together rent data from a few different sources, tempering it with our local knowledge. So be warned that this infographic doesn't give you cold hard pricing facts, but it's more of a guideline.
Heads up! What you pay this year won't be what you pay next year.
Zillow also crunched the numbers on neighborhoods in Boston where rents have fluctuated the most — both up and down. This is really important to consider before you rent somewhere.
Imagine, you've found a great apartment in a neighborhood you love and it's right on budget — but if you're living in East Boston (for example), you could potentially be facing a 5% increase in your rent the next year. That could easily be an extra $100/month.
If you're not emotionally prepared to make another move in a year, you may want to think about another neighborhood.
Check out the biggest movers (according to Zillow in their August 2015 report) below:
Source: Zillow Real Estate Research
Before you rent an apartment, ask the landlord how much the rent will go up.
Before you sign a lease, it's always a good idea to ask the landlord how much the rent increased from last year and how much they anticipate raising the rent the next year. It's hard for landlords to know exactly, but even getting a ballpark is helpful.
Landlords can pretty much raise their rents as much as they want — to whatever "the market" (i.e. a renter) is willing to pay. Take what they raised the rent by the previous year and apply that to what you can expect to pay next year as well and make sure it's still in your budget.
Also, here's a great map that shows rent as a percentage of income in areas around Boston.
According to WGBH, who created this interactive map: "Residents in some of the most expensive neighborhoods in Greater Boston are paying smaller shares of their income for rent than residents in many of Boston’s less-expensive neighborhoods. Conversely, renters in ostensibly cheaper locales are paying more, often much more, of their incomes just to meet those prices."
Curious about rent prices in Cambridge, MA? Check out:
This is it! All the prep work is done and now you can sink your teeth into figuring out where exactly you'll want to live in Boston. You're doing a phenomenal job so far and we're pumped to continue supporting you on this exciting journey. Let's go!