That's right — there are no cheap apartments in Boston.
With that knowledge, you're officially ready to start your apartment search.
Let's start you off with this map, which shows that 67% of one bedroom apartments in Boston are priced above $2,000/month.
Note: readers on mobile devices can refer to the legend below the map, which explains the color coding.
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 really a thing in Boston.
For starters, the housing 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, from the perspective of real estate developers, investors and analysts who understand the complex supply-and-demand dynamics in the market — Boston's nowhere near a bubble on pricing. Real estate in Boston is not even close to being overvalued. Dang!
Here's a graphic from Quartz that shows just how far from being overvalued the Boston real estate market is.
The problem is the disparity between income and rent growth (i.e. rent prices are climbing way faster than incomes). All that means 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."
Source: NYU Furman Center
On top of that, Boston is one of the most expensive rental markets in the U.S. So "cheap" has a different meaning here — just 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 the average rent in Boston by neighborhood as well.
Source: The Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2014-2015
And rent prices will continue to grow. Here's why.
"In Boston, median asking rents have increased at an annual rate of 13.2% since 2010, far outstripping the 2.4% average annual increase in income." - Wall Street Journal (May 2016)
The short version: Property taxes keep growing with the rapidly climbing property values in Boston.
The long version: Property tax assessments on Boston's iconic "triple decker" buildings climbed 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 in Boston are battling the ethical dilemma of raising rents on already high-priced rental properties and the financial dilemma of using rental incomes as additional income to offset growing tax bills. That's a problem for everyone.
Here's a look at changes in average residential tax assessments across neighborhoods in Boston:
Source: The Boston Globe
And the vacancy rate in Boston continues to decline.
According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 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.
Just for context, here's a look at all the luxury apartments in Boston — the list keeps getting longer and longer. Yeesh!
The issue of creating housing for middle- and lower-income residents in Boston has become so serious that there's an entire division in City Hall devoted to solving the problem.
So, here's what looking for "cheap apartments 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 no fee apartments 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%)
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 how helpful roommates in Boston can be — we also have some tips on how to find roommates too.
67% of one bedroom apartments in Boston are priced above $2,000/month.
An article published in Bloomberb in October 2015 shows the sad state of affairs of rent prices in Boston.
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 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.
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:
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).
Housing Unit Change, 2010-2030 (label shows percent change in housing units).
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.
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.!
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.