Image from UrbanOwlCoShop on Etsy

Our lease is up July 1st and our landlord requires 3 months notice to not renew the lease – there are barely any apartments for rent with a July 1st start date yet… Needless to say after 2 years in my 1st post-grad apartment it’s time to move on.

Renting a new apartment is expensive. Usually landlords require 1st & last month’s rent and a security deposit to be paid up front. Oh and most apartments in Boston also require you to pay a broker’s fee of 1 month’s rent. These include apartments I find on Craigslist, Zillow, etc. I call the contact and they set up a 15 min showingblows. my. mind.

All in all that’s 3 months rent upfront!!! The average 1 bedroom apartment in Boston is $2,370 / month according to Zillow . That’s just over $7100 to shell out in one check – ouch. And let’s not forget the cost / fun of maneuvering a moving truck through Boston!

Part I: So what am I considering as I search for my next place?

What’s actually included?

From utilities to amenities, every apartment offers a different “package”.  To truly compare apples to apples it’s important to determine what’s included in the list price, and what additional monthly expenses you’ll incur.

For example:
– Heat
– Hot Water
– Electricity
– Air Conditioning
– Internet / Cable
– Parking
– Trash Removal
– Laundry (Shared or in unit)

Determine your average monthly payment in each category and factor in these expenses when comparing apartments with different utilities and / or amenities.

Keep in mind some categories can be “luxuries”. My apartment has street parking but after 16 months of the daily hunt for parking and some jerk walking down the block slashing 1 tire per car just for fun ($500 down the drain), we opted for the $150 / month private lot.

Upfront Costs

Did I mention my distaste loathing for broker’s fees? It’s important to consider upfront/out-of-pocket moving expenses to make sure your next apartment fits within your budget.

Typical upfront costs include:
– 1st Month’s Rent
– Last Month’s Rent
– Security Deposit
– Application Fee
– Broker’s Fee
– Moving Expenses (moving truck, movers, boxes etc. or if you have really amazing friends, pizza and beer as “thank yous”)

While 1st & last month’s rent are prepaid expenses (as is the security deposit if you don’t make a total mess of the place), application fees and broker’s fees are $ down the drain once you sign on the dotted line.

Add up any application and broker’s fees then divide by the amount of time you plan to spend at your new place (12, 24 months, etc.), and add that number to your monthly rent to compare apartments with/without fees. The full picture isn’t always as pretty as it seems.

Ex: You plan to stay in your new apartment for 12 months.
– Apt. A is $2100 / month with a broker’s fee of 1 month’s rent
– Apt. B is $2200 / month with no broker’s fee

When you only compare monthly rent, Apt. A looks cheaper. However, if you consider that the broker’s fee of $2100 divided over 12 months adds $175 per month to the rent, this makes the effective rent $2275 – making Apt. B the cheaper option. Obviously this is a simplified example, but when you add in parking, utilities etc. $75 here and there can really add up!

Location, Location, Location

It’s not just a HGTV tagline – the location of your next apartment can have a big impact on your bottom line, and not just whether or not you choose a “nicer” neighborhood.

If you don’t have a car, is your apartment close to the grocery store, work, etc? Or is it at least close to public transportation? If not, add in all those UBER rides you’ll end up taking.

Is the area up and coming? Or does it have a history of rising rental rates? If so, you may find your monthly rent increasing when you renew your lease which could potentially prompt another move (ugh).

Is the apartment on the ground level or first floor? Is it a safe area? Add in renter’s insurance to protect your stuff in case it’s stolen. My brother had two break ins, in two different apartments… one with his car being stolen from his driveway in a “nice” part of Cambridge.

If you live in an urban vs. suburban neighborhood your auto insurance will skyrocket. Believe me, mine doubled moving from suburbia to hipster haven in the city… my poor wallet.

Part II: Ways to (Potentially) Save on Your Next Apartment

Consider New Construction

There are TONS of new apartment buildings being built in/around Boston. Unfortunately these are $$$ (no I would not like to schedule a showing of your $2700 studio, but thanks for not listing the price on your site so we could have this awkward conversation – much appreciated). However, some apartment complexes do not charge a broker’s fee and offer more amenities than the typical apartment building. Often times, they entice you with “1 month free rent” or other promotions to get you in the door. Just consider whether or not this saves you money in the long run given the typically higher monthly rent.

Move in the off-season (typically Dec 31st to May 1st)

Rental rates are often lower in the off-season when fewer people are moving (who wants to move in the snow – not me). On the opposite side, beware of huge turnover cycles i.e. September 1st. With a large number of students coming back to Boston, September 1st is a notoriously painful day to move. Not only is it nearly impossible to rent moving trucks / hire movers, but finding a great place at a reasonable price becomes that much more difficult. After all it’s simply supply and demand…

Don’t be afraid to negotiate

It’s often difficult to negotiate on rent itself, but sometimes there’s wiggle room in utilities, pet rent (yes, that’s now a thing), broker’s fees, application fees, security deposits etc. It never hurts to ask, the worst thing they say is “no” and you’re exactly where you started. I tried to negotiate the broker’s fee on my 1st apartment, needless to say I lost that battle.

Part III: Tools & Resources to Get Started

Apartment Listings

(*pro-tip – most of these sites allow you to set alerts which email you when new apartments that match your search criteria are posted)

Any other suggestions or resources you recommend? Comment below!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *