Last Week, I got an email from a mutual friend who was trying to help his brother find a rental in the Back Bay, Beacon Hill or the South End. He was looking at rentals up to 2k and although I focus on the higher end rental market, I told him i’d send him everything up to $2100 on MLS. There were a handful of listings (10) and I got a follow up message asking me to send listings under $1600. I did a seperate search of 1000-1600 and guess how many rentals came up in those neighborhoods……ONE!! As of Feb 4th, 2012, there is only 1 rental available to the real estate agents via MLS. Now, don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that there are no rentals out there in this range, but it is a big indicator that if you are looking to live downtown under $2000 this winter, you are going to have a very tough time. Here are some key points to consider if you are in the rental hunt right about now or over the next few months.
1. Season. Winter, in general, can be Slim Pickins! Most rentals do not come on until the Spring and Summer months and the reality is that most landlords do not want to have a vacant apartment during the middle of the winter. Generally speaking, rents tend not to get top dollar in the winter and they have the potential to stay on the market vacant, (but with inventory so low right now, prices can still be on the high side). Most rentals that tend to come on the market in the Winter are “lease breaks”, the occasional “tenant at will” and condo’s that decide to turn into rentals. One thing that is important (for any season), is that most apartments become vacant when the tenant gives their proper notice. In Boston, the majority of leasses are 60 days notice and sometimes 90 days. If you are looking in February, then you should start in December. Yes, things do come up last minute, so its good to be aware, but know when its best to start your search.
2.Pets. If you have a pet, it is going to be that much more difficult. I don’t have any statistics that confirm this, but i’d say about 75% of all Boston rentals are not pet friendly. No inventory, plus pets, means even more difficulty finding a place (or a decent place). You may have to pay more than you thought, or take something a little less nice, just to find a place that will accept your pooch. If you have multiple pooches and a cat, your percentages have now been reduced even further. I remember getting a call from a desperate agent looking to help his client find a $1700 apartment for him and his 4 chihuahas. Really? I’d rather hunt for unicorns in the Blue Hills than take on that challenge. My tip for that type of renter is…well…buy a condo (if you can).
3. Open up your neighborhood search. If you won’t budge on quality and can’t find anything, open up your neighborhoods. If you start just looking at South End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay and see nothing….open it up to South Boston, Charlestown, Cambridge, Brookline etc….
4. Wait (if you can). If you have to move ASAP, then, you have to take something and bite the bullet. If you hate what is out there, I suggest only signing a lease till August 31st and start your search over again in the summer. There are few landlords that will be against this because it gets them “back on the cycle.” If you are currently in a place that has a flexible move out date than you have a better chance of finding something that better suits your taste. Things come up all the time, but really at random, so if you keep focused on whats out there you should have some luck.
5. Negotiation. If you are looking at a lease break, you usually won’t be able to negotiate on the price. You typically have to pay at least what the current tenant is paying because the owner has the current tenant in a contract and does not need to rent for less while he is currently in a contract for. If you are looking at a vacant apartment and can occupy the place almost immediately, then you have the best chance to negotiate. If you are looking 2 months in advance, then you have less chance to get something for a lesser price because the landlord will most likely try to wait out for their asking price because time is on their side, not yours.
6. Paying a Fee. If you are a renter and are working with an agent, expect to pay a fee. I love getting calls from people and say they only want to see no fee rentals. If you want no fee rentals then I suggest looking on craigslist or going straight to the management company. Most agencies will charge a fee, but i suggest at least trying to negotiate. Winter tends to be a little slow and its worth asking to see if the owner would at least split the fee. I reccommend all renters I work with, to at least try. It’s rare for owners in downtown Boston to pay the fee, but, slower months happen much more than summer months. Expect to pay a full fee in the summer months, because if you don’t, there is someone right behind you who will.
7. Doorman you ask? If you want a building with a doorman you should probably expect to increase your pricepoint. If you want a one bed in an elevator building with a gym, common roofdeck and a doorman, expect to pay at least $2300. anything under $2000 was about 2 years ago. You might be able to find something for less outside downtown Boston, but you’ll have to read about that on someone elses blog. If you are looking ar a 2 bedroom in these buildings then you are looking at the $3500+ price range. If you are looking at even more luxurious building like One Back Bay, the Ritz, 45 province, the Mandarin etc. your pricepoint has increased to a whole new level.
8. Be Flexible to view properties. I love getting the client who can only see places after 8:00PM because they work late and are 1 hour outside the city. It’s almost impossible to set up showings that late for a few reasons. 1, the other agent can’t do that late, 2, I can’t do that late ,3, the current tenant or owner won’t allow the place to be shown that late and 4, if its a leasing office, they usually close around 6pm. If that is all you can do, then know you will be even more limited and it will be frustrating for both your agent and for you. Also, if you can only see places on the weekends, that is where you will have the most competition and potentially miss out on the good ones. I notice that the people who are the most flexible, have the best results. If you can sneak out during lunchtime for the brand new listing that looks awesome, do it!!
Hope these hints help “manage your expectations” in regards to your rental hunt this winter. It’s tough, its competitive, and it’s not going to be easy. Good Luck!!