A good agent, preparation, willingness to accept uncertainty and a decent search runway are crucial to renting an apartment "sight unseen" in Boston.
There's no easy way to say this: finding an apartment when you can't actually see the place in person is stressful. You're essentially banking on some photos and a video walkthrough or two (if you're lucky) to determine where you're going to live for the next year.
1. Get a good agent
Definitely check with other people about this, but most landlords won't bother with you if they can't meet you. Would you agree to rent your house or apartment to someone you never met without some kind of 3rd-party vetting?
Beyond it being nearly impossible to find an apartment in Boston remotely without an agent, a truly decent human being who knows the market and won't pressure or lie to you is a big help. We know some awesome agents who've gone above and beyond, taking pictures and doing Skype/FaceTime walk-throughs with clients who were out-of-town.
Don't go it alone. But DON'T settle for any agent — a standard agent will probably be able to get away with convincing you to lease a place that's not what you're looking for.
2. Get your stuff together
Get your "application materials" in order. As we enumerate below, you'll need landlord references, your credit score and recent pay stubs as well to show proof of income. You'd need to do this with an in-person apartment search experience as well.
As with any application, any additional information you can offer is really helpful — what you're trying to do is paint such a compelling picture about you as a tenant that the landlord will think it's a no-brainer to accept you. Landlords don't have the luxury of trusting people, because a lot have had crappy tenants in the past (late on rent, noisy, subletting illegally, etc.).
Here's what you need to apply for an apartment in Boston.
Image source: moveline.com
First thing's first — you should gather all your rental application information before you start looking at any apartments.
When you’re interested in an apartment, the landlord or property manager will ask for some information about you in the form of a “rental application” — typically revolving around your history as a renter and/or your ability to pay rent.
We've listed the information you should expect to provide in your application below — as well as a couple great tools for easily getting that information in one place and sending it to landlords.
This is like gold. An offer letter with a nice round annual salary number is a really good sign for landlords. It says that smart people with money want to pay you because you're responsible and in-demand. Good stuff.
If there is any form of relocation package, expected bonuses — essentially if there's any proof that more money will be coming into your life over the next 12 months — the landlord will look upon you more favorably.
Simply put, get your current landlord and your employer to rave about how great you are. You will need to provide at least two references along with your application. Typically, landlords and property managers will require references from:
- A previous landlord or property manager — here's an example of a landlord reference template (feel free to send this is a previous landlord!)
- An employer
Note for recent college graduates: references from resident advisors can be acceptable, but additional employer or personal references may be preferred. Avoid using family and friends and make sure you notify your references that you are applying for an apartment.
Pay Stubs + Bank Statements
Simple enough — showing a pay stub from your employer proves that you’re making an income. This proof helps make you an even more attractive applicant to landlords. And if you have any measure of savings piling up, offer your bank statement too — this will show the landlord that if somehow the worst happens and you lose your job, you can still pay.
What is a credit score? In a nutshell, your credit score reflects how much money you’ve borrowed in the past and how good you were at repaying it. The higher your score, the more “proof” you have you can pay off your debts — in your case, the rent.
What does a credit score look like?
- Below 620: Poor
- 620 - 679: Fair
- 680 - 730: Good
- 730+: Very Good
→ How Do I Get My Credit Score
The following table was created by Doorsteps.com — a homebuying information resource that provides future homebuyers with 100% unbiased information, written by industry experts and insiders. They’ve made an incredibly clear and powerful resource on how to obtain your credit score, which we’ve included below — it’s the same process for renters!
Guess it yourself.
Use a free credit score estimator.
Free, but not entirely accurate.
Download your credit report.
Download your Annual Credit Report, and then pay for your credit score separately.
So while this is still a decent option, if you don’t want to be charged every month for the rest of time, you’ll likely need to make several phone calls and write several emails to get the on-going charges dropped. (At least we did, when we all tried this route).
Free for the credit report.
Then pay roughly $20 for your annual credit score.
Then pay $20 – $40 per month because you’re automatically enrolled in a plan that can be a hassle to undo.
Pay for your FICO score.
Access your free FICO credit score.
MyFICO is a branded credit score, developed and administered by a company called FICO, formerly Fair Isaac. It’s the Kleenex of credit score companies.
MyFico pulls from two of the three nationwide credit reporting companies: Equifax and TransUnion, so the result is essentially as accurate as any other option. Besides, 90% of lenders use the FICO score themselves, so you can’t really go wrong here.
It comes with some well designed tools to help you understand your score, and helps you see exactly what it is about your credit history that may be hurting it.
Free credit score.
If you get your score and it’s high enough (say, above 750), then you can simply cancel your subscription immediately and you’ve lost nothing.
If it is lower than you want, you will pay roughly $15 – $20 per month to use their tools and services to find ways to improve it, which we feel is worth it. (And by the way, we are not being paid for this — or any — endorsement. This is based on carefully researching and testing all available options ourselves.)
What if I don’t have a credit score?
You’ll probably need a guarantor. What’s a guarantor? Basically someone with income and a credit history that vouches for you as a renter.
Who needs a guarantor? If you don’t have a significant source of income or a credit history — often the case for students — landlords and property managers will require that someone who does have acceptable income and credit signs a form guaranteeing that rent will be paid.
This guarantor form states that while the lease is between the renter and the landlord, the guarantor is liable for the rent should the renter be unable to pay it. Essentially, the landlord/property manager can collect the rent from the guarantor should the renter be unable to pay rent.
Be ready to prepare your guarantor — often a family member — in advance as landlords and property managers need to verify their credit and the guarantor form will need to be notarized.
You can use this resource to help your guarantor find a notary public nearby.
Stipend Confirmation (if applicable)
Some graduate programs offer stipends to their students who pursue advanced degrees (for example, Boston University’s PhD Program).
If you are receiving a stipend from your school, make sure to bring confirmation to present to the landlord. It’s essentially your proof that you’ll be able to pay the rent, which makes you a much more attractive tenant than someone who doesn’t have the proof with them.
2. Accept a fair degree of uncertainty.
You will probably be a little uncomfortable when you decide to apply for an apartment.
It stinks to not be sure. It's hard enough to make a proper assessment of an apartment in-person when you've got about 10 minutes to decide if you want to apply or not (otherwise it'll probably be rented by someone else). Compound that with not being able to feel what it's like in the space...yikes!
This added uncertainty is exactly why it's essential to have an agent who you really, actually trust. A good agent will tell you honestly what you're dealing with.
Also, since the application process can take longer remotely (needing to send things by mail, etc.), you'll really need to make a decision as quickly as possible. Delaying at all may mean losing anapartment you would have really liked — even if it's hard to tell.
3. Give yourself as much time as possible.
Whatever you do, do not delay a "sight unseen" search. The last thing you want is to be moving to start your new job/school without a permanent place to live.
Although 45 days before a lease date is the "sweet spot" in Boston, starting your search right around 60 days before your move is ideal for sight unseen. It positions you for when listings are first starting to crop up, but before other people are really starting to search.