Ready to move off-campus? If so, we should warn you – Boston’s rents are some of the highest in the country. If you have a limited budget, you’ll need a lot of patience to find an accessible place. You might have to look for some responsible roommates to share the rent. This article lists some tips to get you started.

When it comes to higher education, Boston prides itself in its selection of prestigious schools. Thousands of students come to the capital city of Massachusetts year after year, hoping to fulfill their dreams and enjoy everything New England has to offer – and they all require housing. According to a recent investigation conducted by The Boston Globe, many of them end up living in overcrowded, unsafe apartments. The magazine surveyed 266 students about their living conditions in off-campus apartments, and the results were worrisome, to say the least. Unfortunately, 31-percent of them admitted to living in apartments with more than three roommates, even though city zoning rules ban more than four full-time undergraduates from sharing an apartment.

Furthermore, the respondents said they experience many other problems as well – 38-percent have to deal with broken appliances, 37-percent are having trouble with rodents, bedbugs, and other pests, and 23-percent live in apartments with broken locks. On-campus living options for college students are limited, and Boston landlords are taking advantage of the situation, by demanding high rents and putting little or no work into their properties.

As you can see, finding a safe and affordable apartment off-campus can be a challenge. However, if you’ve decided to give it a go, you need to have plenty of patience and know where (and what) to look for. Luckily, we have some advice to aid you in your apartment-hunting efforts.

1.  Familiarize Yourself With Your Options

When it comes to finding an off-campus place to live, you have four options available:

  • Renting your own apartment – the most expensive option on our list.  You’ll be able to enjoy your privacy, but that’ll come at a very high cost. College students who do this usually opt for studios or one-bedroom apartments.
  • Sharing an apartment with roommates – this option may lower your costs by quite a bit. However, dealing with roommates can be challenging – you need to share responsibilities and learn to tolerate their quirks. MIT has a great Roommate Survival Guide you should check out.
  • Renting a room – this means renting a room in someone else’s home. You’ll likely have a private entrance and private bath, but you’ll need to share the kitchen with the other residents.
  • Renting for services – every now and then, a family may offer a room for rent in exchange for childcare, eldercare, housekeeping or other similar duties. You need to make sure you properly understand the agreement and your responsibilities before moving in.

2.  Set Your Budget

Before starting to search for a rental, you need to figure out how much you can afford to pay each month. Depending on your budget, you can narrow down where to look. For example, $3,000 per month may enable you to live in one of Boston’s luxury properties, but it’s unlikely a college student could afford that.

If you’re looking for a low priced apartment, limit your search to South Boston, Malden, Jamaica Plain, Quincy, and East Boston. Here, the rent for a studio is around $800-$1,000 per month. You can find moderately priced apartments in Brookline, Medford, Fenway / Kenmore, North End, Charlestown, Somerville, and Allston / Brighton. If your budget is more generous, expand your search to Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Bay Village, South End, and Cambridge. In these areas, the price for a studio varies between $1,200-$1,600 per month.

3.  Start Looking

When looking for the perfect rental, it’s best to enlist the help of an experienced realtor. Their fees can get pretty high, but they have access to private listings and offer you a better chance of finding a decent place within your budget. Additionally, transportation should be a major consideration. Parking in Boston is extremely expensive, and often scarce. Some apartment buildings have parking lots, but they usually ask for a parking fee. We would strongly advise you to rely on Boston’s public transportation system instead, which can end up being a lot cheaper than owning a car. Consequently, you may want to look for an apartment close to a bus or train line.

If you do find an apartment in your price range, make sure it’s safe before signing the lease. Just last year, a fire at an overcrowded Boston house injured firefighters and residents (most of them college students) and claimed the life of a Boston University student. To avoid such tragedies, you need to inspect the apartment carefully before deciding to move in. Check to make sure that there aren’t any broken smoke detectors or windows that don’t open or close. Also, keep an eye out for signs of rodent or bug infestation , broken stairs or floorboards, as well as water damage and mold.

4.  Read The Lease Carefully

You’ve found an apartment and you’re ready to move in. That’s great, but you still need to read the lease thoroughly before signing it, especially if it’s the first time you’re renting a place. If possible, have a parent or lawyer look over it as well, because there are many important issues you may not be attuned to, like the landlord’s policy on subletting and security deposit refunds or restrictions regarding pets, overnight guests, or noise.

Boston is home to more than a quarter-million students. Start your search for an apartment early and contact a reliable realtor if you want to increase your chances of stumbling upon a cozy and affordable place to call home.  Finding a perfect apartment off-campus may be difficult, but it’s possible as long as you put in the proper time and research.

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