There are many things to consider when undertaking an apartment search. You should take some time to consider your priorities: location, budget, roommates, how and when to search. This will help you narrow your search and avoid spending time exploring apartments that really don’t fit your needs. Furthermore, if you decide to work with a realtor, thinking about your priorities ahead of time will allow the realtor to more quickly identify apartments that you might like.
If you aren’t familiar with Google Maps or other similar web-based mapping sites, now is your chance to learn. Google Maps will allow you to easily look up the precise location of apartments. You can also get driving directions to HLS (use 1563 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02138) or to the nearest subway station, so that you know how far the walk will be.
For many HLS students, distance to campus is a high priority. This is why many of our students choose to live within a ten minute walk of campus. In fact, 75% of HLS students living off-campus live within 1 mile of campus. The largest concentration of students is across the street from HLS in the apartment buildings along Massachusetts Avenue as well as those between Massachusetts Avenue and Garden Street.
The most popular streets for HLS students are:
- Massachusetts Avenue (particularly between 1500 and 1800 Mass Ave – 12%
- Chauncy Street – 5%
- Beacon Street – 4%
- Wendell Street – 2.5%
- Concord Ave – 2%
- Irving Street – 2%
- Prescott Street – 2%
- Langdon Street – 2%
For those who end up living farther away, apartments near public transportation are a high priority. The subway in Boston is known as the “T” and is managed by the MBTA. The MBTA website has interactive street maps, trip planning features, and transfer information such as the bus lines that stop at a particular subway station. You can also create your own account, MyMBTA, where you can save important addresses, plan trips, customize service updates and save schedules and maps that are useful for you.
HLS is about a 6 minute walk from the Harvard Square red line T stop. Many of our students choose to live in or near Central Square (one stop / 4 minute ride to Harvard Square), Porter Square (one stop / 3 minute ride to Harvard Square) or Davis Square (two stops / 5 minute ride to Harvard Square).
For more information about locations, check out Neighborhoods around HLS.
- Apartments are often listed by neighborhood or squares rather than just by towns. For example, apartments might be listed as being in Inman Square, Harvard Square, or Central Square rather than in Cambridge.
- Parking rules and regulations are different from town to town. Also, parking rules usually change during the winter. If you have a car, make sure you find out about the parking regulations for the entire year.
- There is a town in central Massachusetts named Harvard. It is about 30 miles northwest of Cambridge. Double-check to ensure the apartments you are looking at are in Cambridge, not Harvard, MA.
- There is a Harvard Street in at least a dozen Massachusetts towns and cities (i.e. Brookline, Cambridge, Quincy, Whitman, Worcester). Don’t assume that an apartment on Harvard Street is in Cambridge; double-check the town or city.
- There are some streets such as Massachusetts Avenue that extend through multiple towns and there can, for instance, be two 1400 Massachusetts Avenue’s, one in Boston and one in Cambridge, so double-check the town or city of the apartment listing. When you are preparing directions to see the apartment, ensure you get the complete and correct location. Make sure to write down whether the address is a street, avenue, circle, etc, AND the zip code.
- Streets are rarely straight and there are many one-way streets so as you drive around viewing apartments, pay attention to the route you will need to take and be prepared for the roads you will encounter.
If you have not developed a planned budget for your years at HLS, now is the time to do so. Understanding what you can afford for your housing will help you focus your apartment search. The greater Boston area is among the more expensive areas to live in the nation, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities to find cheaper housing. Where you live and how many roommates you have (if any) can have a substantial impact on your budget. Generally the more roommates you have and the greater distance from campus, the more affordable the apartment will be. Please find below some rough rental prices to provide you with some perspective on what you should expect to see as you begin searching. Bear in mind that these are approximate and the apartments you search will cover the full spectrum of rent prices.
Average Cambridge Rents – please note this is just an estimate to give you a general understanding. Rates will vary widely depending on a multitude of factors.
|Unit Cost||Per Person Cost|
|Studio||$1,000 – $1,400||$1,000 – $1,400|
|One Bedroom||$1,300 – $1,650||$1,300 – $1,650|
|Two Bedroom||$1,700 – $2,200||$850 – $1,100|
|Three Bedroom||$2,000 – $2,945||$667 – $982|
It is important to ask what utilities are included in the price. You might see two apartments near one another; one of which is right at your budget limit and includes heat, hot water and electricity, while the other is much cheaper but excludes them. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples and ask what is included in the rental price. Also, consider the cost of cable television, telephone service and/or Internet service when figuring what you can afford.
While it is important to know what you can afford on a monthly basis, it is equally important to know what you can afford up-front. It is typical for landlords to require first and last month’s rent along with a security deposit. So, for a $1,500 per month one bedroom apartment, you might need to come up with $3,000-$4,500 in order to secure the apartment. Also, if you work with a realtor and choose an apartment shown by the realtor, there will likely be a broker’s fee as well, which is usually either half a month’s rent or a full month’s rent.
Searching for an apartment can be a time-consuming process. You should be prepared to spend a few weeks conducting your search and you should plan to visit Cambridge in order to see some apartments. Most leases require tenants to give notice 30-60 days before vacating apartments, and leases generally run from September 1 through August 31. The peak for finding apartments in this area is late June/early July. Your goal should be to find an apartment by the end of July as the supply tightens and you may have more difficulty finding the apartment you want and might need to settle for something less desirable (likely further away). Another option is to secure one of the apartments that are available in June for summer sublet with the option to renew in September.
There are many resources that you can use to search for an apartment, but the most popular way to find an apartment in the greater Boston area is craigslist, which has multiple ways to view apartment listings:
- all apartments (includes by-owner + no-fee broker + fee broker)
- all no-fee apartments (includes by-owner + no-fee broker)
- by-owner apartments only (no brokers)
You should try multiple searches utilizing different keywords and be mindful of the Harvard St., Harvard, MA and other issues mentioned in the location section of this page. Don’t be too restrictive in your searches as you might miss some apartments that you could have liked.
Many students utilize a real estate broker in their apartment search, although with craigslist you don’t have to. The big advantage is that a realtor has more experience and can more quickly find potential apartment matches for you. You can even work with multiple realtors in order to see more listings. Most realtors will require you to agree in writing up front to pay a broker’s fee if you sign a lease for an apartment that they showed you.
You should try to make a visit to Cambridge and tour apartments, but if you cannot visit and you know someone in the area, you can ask them to go and take a look at the apartment on your behalf and take some pictures for you. If you don’t know anyone in the area, ask the landlord if they already have pictures of the apartment or if they could take some for you. You should not sign a lease for an apartment unless you have, at a minimum, seen pictures of it.
HRES has a self-service roommate listing web site, called the HRES Roommate Center. You can use this site to find roommates for HRES or for private market apartments. You can also use craigslist or roommates.com to find other people searching for roommates.
- Harvard University’s Housing Office maintains an extensive database of off-campus, non-affiliated housing – Harvard University Community Listing Network.
- If you are unaware of Massachusetts tenants rights, do not understand your lease or feel as though you are being taken advantage of, you may consult the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development’s web site on Massachusetts Tenant Rights, Laws and Protections.
New and Innovative Search Web Sites
The new web sites listed below are cutting edge apartment search sites, although some are still in beta and most are not as exhaustive as craig’s list, they are unique and useful ways to search, for students those interested in sites that utilize mapping and photos to enhance the housing search experience.
- www.housingmaps.com/ combines craigslist with Google Maps to create a powerful new way to search; however, it doesn’t seem to include every listing.
- boston.listpic.com lists craigslist listings by date with just a photo, the cost and location for those that would prefer a more visual way to search.
- www.mapskrieg.com/view/boston/ is a mashup of craigslist and Google Maps, but includes the craigslist housing type filtering built in.
- www.zilpy.com provides free rental market facts and analysis in a neat heat map presentation.
- hotpads.com is a map-based apartment search site.
- www.padmapper.com combines google maps with other housing websites, including craiglist