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Old 11-22-2010, 07:26 AM
170 posts, read 373,620 times
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We are moving to the area in a couple of weeks and will be staying in temporary housing while we search for a rental. We haven't ever been through the rental process in a large city. Can someone explain how things work?

A few of my specific questions:
*Is the process like buying a home where we have our own rental agent and the property has a listing agent?
*If I see a good place on Craigslist, do I call that apartment's listing agent and ask to see the place?
*If we rent that place, do we pay the broker's fee? Any other fees?
*What else should I know about the process?
*What should I know about renting in Boston?
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Old 11-22-2010, 06:05 PM
Location: Newton, Mass.
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You don't really need your own agent, just contact the listing agent. Do remember the listing agent wants to rent the place and collect the fee. Don't be pressured if you don't like the place. Whether you pay the fee depends. In Boston it's pretty common for the LL to make the renter pay the fee, but sometimes it's half and sometimes the tenant doesn't pay at all. It's fairly often negotiable, especially if the place has been vacant a while and you're a good applicant. Some places want first month's and last month's rent and a deposit, others want less cash up front.

Renting in Boston you need to pay attention to the EXACT location. Agents will say it's "near" the T but that can mean 15 mins walk. Look up what trains and buses are where in relation to the apt and how often they run. Proximity on a map means nothing without good transit access. A couple of blocks can also mean a safety difference in a city.

What utilities are included? Do you control your own heat/temp? Any mice or bugs? What types of people live in the building? Check where the stores, supermarket are. Noise issues-above a bar can equal major noise. How do you handle repairs if they're needed? What is the process for return of security deposit? Laundry facilities? Co-signer needed? If you feel you're not getting straight answers, press it or move on.
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Old 11-23-2010, 05:06 AM
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Thanks so much for all the information! We have so many decisions to be making in the next few weeks. This helps a lot.
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Old 11-23-2010, 04:54 PM
Location: Quincy, Mass. (near Boston)
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If you're like me, you'll want a top-floor apt. so that noise from above tenants doesn't drive you crazy. There's a couple of long threads on C-Ds renting forum complaining about noisy upstairs neighbors.

Non-smoking buildings are more popular now, thankfully.

A credit check, it seems, will nearly always be run as part of the application (sometimes $25-$35).
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Old 11-23-2010, 10:53 PM
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Controlling your own heat/temp is an issue? Is that why they can include heat in the rent? I find it odd that heat, water, and sometimes electricity is included in the rent. Still looking forward to moving to Boston after the new year...maybe not til Spring.
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Old 11-24-2010, 12:28 AM
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The reason heat, water, and sometimes (though rarely in my experience) electricity is included in many rental buildings in Boston/Cambridge/some surrounding metro towns (mostly urban though) is because of Massachusetts utility laws.

In apartment buildings in Mass. (as far as I understand multi-family homes and/or owner-occupied homes with tenants, like shared roommates or an upstairs apartment type deal are exempt), tenants must be each provided with submeters for each utility they are being charged AND such charges must originate/come directly from the utility company.

(This is commonplace in many other places -- for example, when I lived in North Carolina, my apartment had its own submeter for water, electricity, and gas. I received bills from the water, electricity, and gas company each month, charged for my individual apartment's utility usage.)

The problem in metro Boston is that many of the older buildings aren't submeterable OR the cost of installing submeters would be so prohibitively expensive the management company/building owner has decided to eat the cost and/or incorporate it generally into the rental cost ("free"). This largely applies to water -- the building I live in now, for example, was built in the early 1900s and is piped in such a way that there's no way to put in submeters without practically ripping the entire 30 unit building into pieces.

A lessor/management company used to be able to take the total water bill for a building and divide by the number of apartments and charge each apartment accordingly, however this law made that practice illegal. My (albeit limited) understanding of the submeter law was that it was established to protect tenants from receiving "bills" from their lessors claiming a certain cost for utilities (i.e. your apartment's electricity bill this month is $50) when/if such a bill was less than the actual charges.

A reason many of these buildings have free heat is because almost all of them are run off a common boiler (radiator heating) - making it impossible to divide such costs. I do have one or two friends that do not have free heat -- they all have gas heating systems and, thus, submeters for them
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Old 11-24-2010, 12:44 AM
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When I first was moving to Boston I approached my apartment hunt like I was in New York -- that is, I found a broker and worked through him to find a place.

This backfired for me and I've never done this way since (I've lived in a few apartments since then!). I'd search for apartment listings that appeal to you (in terms of size, location, price, whatever is important to your search) and then contact the listing agent for the unit. If that unit isn't appealing to you or the listing agent says its been rented, they can probably point you in the direction of other listings they have that might fit the bill. There are lots of websites out there - not to mention places like Craigslist, which I've found a lot of brokers use to post listings too.

The pitfalls of my first search was that I didn't realize there are (sometimes) financial incentives for brokers to get tenants signed to certain buildings/management companies/etc. - even when the broker is "working for you!" For example, I was brand new to the city, didn't really have a clue about the rental stock in metro Boston, and basically just knew I wanted something in a particular neighborhood with particular specs (1 bedroom) within my defined budget. My "broker" showed me a few listings (which I later learned were all owned by own particular rental company -- he wasn't affiliated with this company, but they pay out "bonuses" and other financial fees to brokers who have a tenant sign with them), meaning I didn't realize there were a whole lot of other apartments out there up for grabs. He also told me that the price wasn't negotiable (his payment bonus from the company depended on how much rent the tenant he brought in paid), when I much later learned that the rent was entirely negotiable AND I could have probably swung a particular discount because of a few other factors that I won't get into now. Yes I know -- I was naive and should have done better research.

I say this not to scare or intimidate you -- my other apartment searches took more time, more patience, and more searching skills but ended up spectacularly well on all fronts -- but to give you a heads up about at least my experience.

If you're coming from a non-metro area (I don't know how commonplace this is in some parts of the US), be aware that you may need to prove via documents that you have the equivalent of a year's worth of salary in a bank account or a job that pays enough to cover your salary each month. This will depend on the situation with where you rent.

Also keep in mind that "full fee" translates, typically, into one month's rent. "Half fee" usually means half a month's rent. (This can vary in different parts of the US).

Oh and a word about fees - I have friends who refuse to even look at apartments that require fees, on principle. I think this is boneheaded as current apartment (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE) was a full fee apartment AND is amazing AND totally by all means worth the fee I paid (my friends can't believe the deal I got -- and I really think I got a deal b/c some people were turned off by the fee thing). But, it's an individual thing...
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Old 11-24-2010, 12:49 AM
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Last but not least (sorry to be chatty tonight) -- don't be afraid to cold-call a company who's information you see on a building. For example, if you're in a neighborhood you like (a particular street, visiting something, what have you), and you see a building that seems what you like (from the outside at least), there is often a sign out front listing the managment company and their phone number (OR in the entryway before the locked common door -- I think there may be some law about this information being listed but I'm not 100% sure about it). Feel free to call them - you never know if they might have something (this works especially well if you're really trying to get into a certain neighborhood for some reason).
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Old 11-24-2010, 01:06 AM
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Thanks for the info. I'm still looking online for an area I would like to rent in. So far my choices areas are North End, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, South End, Central Square or Davis Square. I look at apt/condos just about everyday to see the costs. Once I start applying for a position then I will need to narrow down the neighborhoods.
Veggiegirl- I hope you don't think I hijacked your post! You asked great questions and had wonderful responses.
I've never had to use a broker for an apt. I think I will try searching myself and see how it goes. I've been checking Boston weather on a daily basis to see how cold it is. Much different then Cali!!
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Old 11-24-2010, 08:27 AM
170 posts, read 373,620 times
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Wow, what terrific responses!! I think things are very different in other parts of the country so I really appreciate all of the specific things that you've mentioned.

We are searching through Craigslist every day (we are arriving next week!). I've also heard the Boston Globe classifieds is a good resource. Any other websites that we should be searching for rentals?
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