NBC10 Boston: ‘You have to have an edge’: How to navigate the tight rental market in the Boston area

The Boston metro area has some of the highest rents in the country, paired with some of the lowest vacancy rates. Two local experts joined us on “How it Works” to talk about best practices for your rental search and what you can do to give yourself an edge

By Thea DiGiammerino and Ana Mondello-Mata • Published July 25, 2023

NBC10 Boston

Looking for a place to rent but feeling pressured by the cost of living in the Boston area? You’re not alone.

According to an April Realtor.com survey, rents in Boston and other northeastern cities continue to rise faster than the rest of the country. The same survey found median rent in the Boston area was around $2,800 for a two-bedroom apartment – one of the highest in the country – and a vacancy rate of just 2.7% – one of the lowest. Top that with fake apartment listings and other housing scams – it’s enough to make anyone dread the search process.

But we’re here with tips on the process to help you get started. Here’s how it works.

“With rents in Boston being so high, that can easily run anywhere up to $8,000 just to move into an apartment and find our families have difficulty coming up with that kind of money.”

Felisha Marshall, director of Housing supports at Metro Housing Boston, said it’s important to understand what a competitive market means for potential tenants.

“You have to have an edge because the landlords are going to be looking at your application and making decisions about you in a pool of others in terms of who’s going to be the best choice to help him or her,” she explained.

How important is your credit score when renting?

Your credit history can have a big impact here – some places will have strict guidelines in place about this.  If your credit history isn’t stellar, don’t gloss it over – Marshall said it’s better to be transparent and try to show that you’re making efforts to build it up.

Peggy Pratt Calle, team leader at Pratt Properties, said a lack of credit can be a big challenge when they’re trying to place a client.

“Sometimes I have to help them find alternate credit, as in rental references or work referrals,” she said.

References that can attest to a solid history can make a difference.

“When I’ve seen that they’ve been at the same employment for a good amount of time, that shows stability. Also, when they’ve been living in the same apartment for a good amount of time, that shows the stability as well,” she said.

What else can be done to increase chances of approval?

Marshall adds that you should think about how you’re going to sell yourself – and don’t discount little things that could give you an edge.

Do you get along with your current neighbors? Is your current apartment well-kept? Pratt Calle said if you’re comfortable you could offer to show your landlord your current home so they can see how you treat your space.

“Sometimes the owners would really feel more comfortable saying, Oh, I know this person who’s organized, this person is clean,” she said.

But as you sell yourself, make sure you’re also protecting yourself. Look out for red flags that could mean a listing is fake.

“When they ask you for money without even seeing the unit right there, that should be a red flag. You should not be giving out any money and you need to make sure that it’s either a reputable company or realtor.”

What you should know about fees and other housing options

There are some costs that are normal, like a $25 fee to run a credit report. If you’re working with an agent, a typical rate will be one month’s rent. First and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit, are a typical request when you find a new apartment. These upfront costs can put a strain on families – but there are both public housing programs and nonprofit organizations that offer help.

But Marshall warns that even those who qualify for housing vouchers may have trouble finding a place in Boston. With things as they are now, her advice is not to be too picky.

“Thinking of it as not trying to find your forever home, but, you know, trying to find a home that you can start with and then make some additional moves because it’s really tight out here in the market,” Marshall said.

And if you’ve been considering taking a jump from renting to buying, know that the price difference might not be as dramatic as you think.

“Not everyone wants to rent and not everyone wants to buy. But if you are a renter who has the idea or the desire for future homeownership, keep in mind that there’s so many first-time homebuyer programs out there that can pretty much equal the same as the first month,” Pratt Calle said.

More housing resources

To access resources from Metro Housing Boston, click here.

To learn more about Pratt Properties, click here.

Massachusetts offers emergency housing resources to those in need.

There are Housing Consumer Education Centers (HCEC) across the state that can help you find housing, navigate problems in existing housing, and more.

Your local housing authority can help you apply for public housing.

Boston’s Metrolist is a resource to help find income-restricted housing in the city. (This is different from subsidized or public housing.)

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