It is possible to find a no fee apartments in Boston — but it's a lot of work and the cards are stacked against you.
My real goal here is to help set the right expectations about searching for "no fee" apartments. I'll also give you 4 methods of finding a no fee apartment in Boston. Spoiler alert: you probably already know them.
- Get a referral from someone you know and trust.
- Walk the neighborhood.
- Use the Craigslist's no-fee apartment section.
- You can check listing sites too, but any "no fee" apartment you see on an internet listing site like Zillow will all be high-priced, luxury apartments in Boston.
I'll let you know upfront that finding a no fee apartment in Boston means facing a lot of competition or having a luxury budget.
I will do my honest-to-goodness best to coach you on how to find a no fee apartment in Boston, but I'll emphasize that the chances are still slim, sadly. Let me explain why.
Why is finding no fee apartments in Boston so hard?
There are three primary reasons:
- There's immense competition amongst renters — every renter wants to avoid the fee, because a month's rent is a lot of money to spend. Every no fee ad gets far more inquiries than the agent or landlord can respond to.
- Very few landlords try to find renters themselves — it takes time, money and effort to find a new tenant and they can have a real estate brokerage do all the work for free. This is a major reason why brokers, agents and fees exist in Boston.
- It's rare to find a non-luxury apartment with an agent — because that means the landlord is in such a bind to get the place rented that she's willing to pay the broker's fee.
Beware the false value of some no fee apartments.
Bottom line, some landlords make a bet that by listing a "no fee" apartment, they can effectively bake what the broker fee would have been into the monthly rent. Take the example of a hypothetical $2,700 two-bedroom apartment in Mission Hill:
What would have been a $2,700 broker fee can be split into monthly increments of $225 and added to the rent. Landlords might cut into that a little and only raise the rent $175/month to make it more palatable to the renter, but they still get $2,100 more per year. They make a gamble on not needing a broker to find new tenants and that tenants will be somewhat blind to the rent increase because of the prospect of not paying a broker fee.
Not a bad tactic for landlords, but also completely devalues the "great find" of a no fee apartment for renters.
Unfortunately, there's no real way to tell how many no fee listings are implementing an approach like this, but from an economics perspective it can make sense for landlords. Using a site like Rentometer can help you understand if the landlord is purposefully charging more to capitalize on the allure of the "no fee" label. They'll give you a cross-section of available apartments in the nearby area and tell you if the apartment's price is above, below or in line with the average listings prices currently on the market.
So how do you find a no fee apartment in Boston?
1. Get a referral from someone you know and trust.
This is the Holy Grail of apartment renting — having someone you know recommend an apartment that you end up renting.
Why is a referral so good? Essentially, a referral lets you bypass looking for an apartment and dealing with a broker (and the broker fee — see below for details on brokers). Instead of spending time looking at apartment listings and ads and going on multiple showings, you can take a quick look at one unit and be done with it.
Unfortunately, referrals are also really hard to pull off. History has shown us that the chances of knowing someone in Boston who knows about a unit opening up where you want to live in Boston that fits what you’re looking for are pretty slim. However, we know it's a super virtuous outcome when it does happen, so we've put together a few tips on how to reach out to your network in Boston!
Two easy ways to find people you know in Boston.
USE FACEBOOK GRAPH SEARCH
Personal: Type “My friends who live in Boston, Massachusetts” into the search bar.
Professional: Type “My friends who work at [Employer Name]” into the search bar.
Connect.com lets you see friends from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Foursquare and LinkedIn plotted on a map. Very simple. Pretty cool — especially for targeting who to reach out to about your apartment search!
2. Walk the neighborhood.
A lot of landlords and property owners still place signs in their windows that indicate there are units available. They’ll either provide some contact information, or if the building has a leasing office on-site, you can just walk in and ask.
3. Use the Craigslist's no-fee apartment section.
Yes, Craigslist is horrible, but in the world of trying to find a no fee apartment in Boston, it's your best bet. As I mentioned above, you'll have to weed through a lot of luxury apartments too (see image below).
...you're not going to like this next part, and I cringe to write it but I have to tell you the truth...
Here's a little anecdote that will shatter your dreams — and I promise that this is a true story. The other day, I met a former rental agent who's now looking for an apartment in Boston. He stopped practicing real estate 5 years ago and said he was shocked that the process is still the same (i.e. renters and agents using Craigslist). He wants to avoid paying a fee and said (verbatim):
"I would look at the 'no fee' section on Craigslist, but agents just post ads there for apartments that have fees. Because that's what I did *laughs*."
Now, your reaction might be, "That scumbag!" — and yes, that's definitely unethical. But I have to step in and clarify that rental agents in Boston are disadvantaged by telling the truth and being ethical, when it comes to Craigslist ads. As an ethical agent, your very real ad for an $1,800 one-bedroom apartment in Mission Hill looks less attractive than some sleazy agent's fake $1,500 one-bedroom in the same location (with better pictures).
Or, more relevant to this post, a "no fee" ad gets far more attention than an ad that has a fee — so bad agents exploit that reality and lie. UGH! It's so frustrating on every level, for renters and also for good people who have their real estate license and are forced to weigh the ethical dilemma of lying on their apartment ads against the fact that they do (in fact) need to earn a living and eat.
I'll digress (and I've got a whole rant about why Craigslist is a renter's worst friend in Boston).
On a more helpful note, here are two IFTTT recipes that will automatically send you new no fee ads (for September apartments) from Craigslist:
4. You can check listing sites too, but...
Almost ubiquitously, any "no fee" apartment you see on an internet listing site like Zillow, Trulia, HotPads, Hot Igloo, PadMapper, PadMatcher, RadPad, Zumper, Apartment List, Lovely, Comfy, Hubdin, Apartment Guide, Apartment Finder, Apartments.com...
...will all be high-priced, luxury apartments in Boston.