One of the most uniquely-Boston experiences is upon us once again. I am of course talking about September 1 apartment move ins. The date is such a notable fixture on the calendar that it’s given rise to colloquialisms such as Allston Christmas and Storrow’ing. It’s practically impossible to encounter a Bostonian who doesn’t know someone moving that date, assuming they aren’t doing so themselves. The sheer volume of apartments turning over engulfs the city, with many proactively planning to be elsewhere on that date to avoid the gridlock while others kick back and enjoy watching the circus.
Like other local traditions such as Head of the Charles and Marathon Monday, September 1st is more manageable with more information. The internet is littered with guides to overcome the associated hurdles, many from the city’s educational institutions. Let’s dig into some of the finer details of this distinctive local holiday along with some reactions from some IMG staff experiencing it for the first time.
The vast majority of apartment units in Boston are on a September 1 lease cycle. The percentage of the inventory is somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the city’s overall supply. It’s an eye-catching figure and a very particular quirk in our local real estate but with a very straight forward explanation. The city’s substantial population of college students long ago galvanized building owners to align lease cycles with the school year.
Finding an apartment
As a result of so many people looking for apartments on the same lease cycle, competition is understandably fierce. Mimicking the trends on the homeownership side of things, bidding wars have emerged in apartment hunting. This highly competitive environment has given rise to a need to be highly proactive in future searches – I’m talking about January and February. It’s hard to imagine looking for a new place shortly after you’ve finished moving in and setting up your current spot, but it’s par for the course here in Boston.
The cost of an apartment represents another local wrinkle that can surprise the uninitiated. Yes, Boston apartments command some of the highest rents in the country, but what newcomers might not know is that they’re likely to pay four months’ worth of rent just to secure the lease. In Boston it’s fairly common to require first and last month’s rent, a security deposit (equal to a month’s rent), and a broker fee (also equal to a month’s rent). This reality not only produces sticker shock, it can be a serious road block to moving. If someone is not satisfied with their current accommodations, they may find themselves unable to move elsewhere if they do not have the equivalent of fourth months’ rent on hand – never mind funds for movers or a rental truck.
Here’s how some IMG staffers found the local rental market when they began searching for an apartment in Boston for the first time…
I am moving on September 1st, but fortunately I had some understanding of what I was getting into having lived in a competitive rental market in college and hearing of the experiences from friends and family. My apartment search began in May, which felt late, and took a month-and-a-half of daily outreach to get to a signed lease. Despite my expectations, I still found the process stressful, especially the rate at which apartments were snatched up – sometimes within an hour of touring a unit.
The biggest difference from my experience in Philadelphia is the amount of fees associated with signing a lease. I was familiar with paying application fees but broker fees equating to a month of rent was a shocker. With first and last month, plus security deposit, and a broker fee, you’re looking at $5,000 per person up front. The 9/1 lease cycle also can mean contending with the awkward gap between a lease ending at one place and the lease beginning at another. If you fall into this camp, you may need to double your rental truck reservation (possibly sleeping in it) and/or book a hotel.
I had intended to move to Boston in September 2022 (and had an apartment lined up) but it ultimately didn’t happen due to extenuating circumstances. My search began the March prior and even though I presumed this was a sufficient window for apartment hunting, I was surprised that everything that was available at that time felt too expensive, too run down, or too inconvenient for my needs. It became quickly clear that I would need to really dig to find something worthwhile.
Even with all of the work I put in to find the right apartment, I was taken aback yet again by the discovery that a broker fee equivalent to a month of rent would be required to secure the lease. On the plus side, I was notified about Allston Christmas and was able to find some decent items for free that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.
I’m moving to Boston for the first time on September 1, but I had some experience renting while living in Washington D.C. When I began my search, the biggest difference in the two cities was the inventory of apartments. Whereas D.C. had a lot of new construction and multifamily with a lot of amenities, in Boston I saw a lot of older triple deckers and amenities seemed limited to apartments at the higher end of the spectrum, so they weren’t as universal. It was also surprising that leases required first and last month’s rent on top of the security deposit, as I’d only paid that portion when signing past leases. The additional cost of the broker fee was the most surprising part, however. Working with a broker was an entirely new experience, especially the notion that you’d have to pay them the equivalent of a month of rent regardless of how much work they did prior to the lease being signed.
The 9/1 apartment experience has plenty of particularities to it, but understanding the process can make it a little easier. Recognizing when the search should commence and the amount of money required to secure a new lease can help to set you up for success in a crowded field of renters. Best of luck to all moving apartments this September 1st!