It’s musical chairs season for Boston-area rentals as the rush to score apartments for the popular months of June and September gets underway. But unlike in years past, renters may find themselves with more options, less pressure, and smaller rent spikes because more new units have flooded the market, according to some real estate agents.
It’s possible that, for the first time in years, renters may be able to breathe a sigh of relief, said Carlina Nabatoff, co-owner of Abundant Real Estate Group in Cambridge, which covers Arlington, Belmont, Cambridge, and Somerville.
“Recently [units] started sitting for longer because there’s been an influx of luxury buildings,” Nabatoff said. “The supply has gone up significantly. People used to see three to five rentals, and now my average client is seeing six to 10.”
It wasn’t too long ago that renters who didn’t submit applications immediately would lose two units a day, she said. Now renters in a variety of neighborhoods are a bit more comfortable taking their time.“The average rent price has gone up each year, still, but it takes more work to get properties rented,” she said. “It used to be a landlords’ market but it’s changing. There’s so many units on the market, it’s taken leverage from the landlords.”
Thousands of new high-end units have been added in Boston and surrounding communities in complexes that boast high-end appliances and amenities like gyms, as well as incentives like free rent for the first month.And while they command high rents, some are priced only slightly higher than older apartments in choice locations near public transportation. Given the choice, more renters are opting to pay a bit more for new construction and more amenities.That’s leaving the next tier of rental stock just a bit less in demand.
But it’s hardly a pendulum swing, said Michael DiMella, managing partner at Charlesgate Realty in Boston. Rents in Greater Boston are still at record highs. According to Reis Inc. a rental-tracking firm, the average monthly rent for high-end apartments in the Boston area last year was $2,588.
“I would have a hard time classifying it as a renters’ market,” DiMella said. “What we have seen is with the increase with inventory that has come online in the past few years, in the Seaport, Fenway, and some other neighborhoods, it’s closing in on meeting the demand on renters in the marketplace.”
Rachel Hoh began her search in March for a two-bedroom apartment with a September move-in date, so she wouldn’t feel rushed or make an impulsive decision. The 25-year-old Tufts graduate student and her future roommate looked for places near the MBTA’s Red Line in Cambridge and Somerville for less than $3,000 a month.
“Finding an affordable unit with proximity to the Red Line is such a difficult task,” Hoh said, adding that among their must-haves were free laundry in the unit or building and a large kitchen for entertaining. “I never felt rushed or hastened; it’s a much more intentional pace.”
A month into their search, the women secured a $2,700-a-month apartment on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, less than a 10-minute walk to Davis Square. It’s not new construction, one of the bedrooms is tiny, and the other one has a water heater that takes half of the closet space. Hoh said those are “minor quirks.” But the easier it becomes to find rentals, the more those “quirks” can feel like deal-breakers. With better options on the market, renters are also becoming less tolerant of imperfections they were forced to ignore when the market was tighter, such as noisy, inefficient radiators, old windows, and 1970s era pastel colored bathrooms, said Rachael Kulik, a broker at Jamaica Plain Rentals and Sales LLC.
For landlords who’ve gotten used to hiking rents every year without putting any work into their units, that party is over, Kulik said.
“I think some people overdid it on the market rents. They saw everything going up and they skyrocketed the rental rates,” she said, adding that typically June is busier than September in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood which attracts more medical professionals than students. “So this year we’re encouraging landlords to not raise [rents] too much. And don’t get rid of a good tenant because you want to get a couple of hundred bucks more.”
Johanna Atkinson, 35, began her search for a one-bedroom in Somerville last month, but the sticker shock steered her toward two-bedrooms with the hopes of splitting rent with a roommate. It also made her less tolerant of unrenovated spaces.
“I’ve seen the units with the ‘70s bathroom, pink and green tiles; I’d be ok with that if they charged less,” Atkinson said. “If I’m going to give someone a bunch of money I want them to work [on renovations] a little bit. It makes me crazy to give so much rent to someone and know that they’re just sitting there on their butts spending my money.”