1 May
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Navigating the Boston Rental Market during COVID-19 Pandemic | By Jamie Gaines

1. Beginning Steps

To secure the best apartment options one should connect with a local real estate agent who is familiar with the rental process in Boston. Unfortunately, the rental process has become challenging over the years as supply/demand economics have favored the landlord and a sect of rental real estate brokerages have aimed to profit on less informed tenants. 

How does it work?! 

When you search for an apartment online in Boston, most consumers end up on websites such as, Zillow, Trulia, or others that we refer to as  “Syndicator Sites” (real estate sites that pull listings from other sites and redisplay them as if they’re original to that specific site). This can be exhausting and extremely confusing because in Boston 90% of the rental market is advertised as an “open” listing. This means that rental units aren’t represented by a single, exclusive listing agent. Instead, any real estate agents who are tapped into the system in the city have access to advertise all open listings. This results in the prospective tenant seeing the same apartment listed many times (in slightly different ways) across different search sites. Due to the high volume of apartment inventory in the city, an active agent may not have the ability to track all their online ads and, therefore, may not update the ads when the unit has been rented. Tenants end up attempting to contact apartments that have previously been rented. Additionally, agents are not necessarily incentivized to update their listing ads as those ads may bring them new tenant leads that they can then convert into paying clients. To the tenant/consumer, this can make it extremely hard to understand and navigate through what is actually available to them on any given day when they may have multiple conversations with different agents about the same units. When you align with an agent who can work exclusively on your behalf,  they are able to vett units on the back end, eliminating much of the “clutter” on these sites and making your time spent looking online searching much more productive.


2. The “Virtual” Search Process

Due to the recent global pandemic, the apartment search process has evolved accordingly. Most viewings are being conducted virtually by either facetime/zoom meetings, video tours, or 3D virtual touring if the apartment is occupied. Boston’s vacancy rate remains slim. If the apartment is occupied, in person showings are increasingly difficult. This has made the housing search riskier for prospective tenants to decide on a unit without physically being in it. Since that is our new reality, using a local agent will eliminate the risk of scammers and fraudsters! 


3. Up Front Costs 

While there is no specific “Industry standard”  for up front costs, the formula that we see most often is that landlords request:

  • first month’s rent
  • last month’s rent
  • security deposit
  • broker’s fee. 

Each of these costs  are equivalent to one month’s rent. This is the maximum upfront costs allowed to be charged in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. YOU SHOULD NEVER PAY MORE THAN 4 MONTHS UP FRONT. We aim to reduce these move-in costs whenever possible and due to the pandemic we are witnessing landlord flexibility for high quality tenants. 


4. Application Process

Time to apply! During the application process expect the pace to be rapid. Competing this step slowly will often  cost you the apartment. Due to the high demand and the limited quality inventory Boston faces, this process may feel extremely competitive. We have witnessed groups lose out on an apartment within an hour. This information is not to scare you but to prepare you in order to have success. 

Applications are generally reviewed on a “first come, first served” basis. If a qualified application is presented to the landlord they will most likely accept that application. In order to apply you will need to fill out and provide the following information, 

  • Application – this is a form issued by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board that asks foundational questions about who you are: Previous address, previous landlord, employment history, income, etc. 
  • Picture ID –  of your license or passport
  • Employment Confirmation – this will most likely be your Offer Letter. This needs to reference the compensation you will be receiving.
  • First month’s rent  – this is due with the application but is fully refundable if the application is not accepted. 
  • Sight Unseen Form – this is becoming more common during COVID-19. This form is to protect the landlord from later fall out if a tenant backs out 
  • Guarantor Form – Many tenants do not meet the income requirement for an apartment (more on this below) in Boston. A Guarantor is the responsible person in case the tenant cannot make the  rental payment. 
  • Guarantor Picture ID – passport or license. 


5. Landlord Review Process

The review process is straightforward. They are looking for good quality tenants that will eliminate risk as a landlord. Massachusetts is a “tenant friendly” state per our General Laws. Once a tenant is in place, it is very difficult for a landlord to kick them out. Hence,  landlords must take care when selecting a tenant. Landlords in Boston vary from large management groups to single property owners. Each landlord will have their own set of standards and rules on what they look for in prospective tenants. 

Common Criteria:

  • Sufficient Income – normally 3x rent amount per month. 
  • Good References
  • Good Credit – ideally above 700
  • No evictions
  • No cornering credit hits/corrections

Fair Housing Law states you are not allowed to be discriminated against for any of the following:

  • race
  • religion
  • ethnic background or national origin
  • sex
  • familial status, including having children or being pregnant (except in certain designated senior housing)
  • a mental or physical disability.


6. Lease/Collection of Funds/ Move – in Day

Once approved for the apartment the lease is sent to you electronically. This will include but is not limited to:

  •  standard lease
  • mold addendum
  • lease addendum
  • smoking addendum
  • security deposit form (if this was part of the move-in costs)
  • lead law information
  • an apartment condition statement. 

Once the lease is signed, the remaining funds will need to be paid. When funds are sufficiently paid, congratulations, the apartment is yours! The keys will be given to you on the day your lease starts and further information will be provided by the landlord. 


Please contact us for more information on this process!