Demand for city apartments dropped dramatically as COVID-19 began to spread in 2020. The subsequent decline in rents in Boston means that renters may be able to take advantage of bargains — at least for now. The median rent price in Boston decreased by 14.5 percent from March 2020 to March 2021, according to Apartment List, an online rental marketplace. That means Boston had the fourth-sharpest decline in rents among the largest 100 cities in the United States, behind San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle. However, that pattern may be coming to an end with the increase in vaccinations and the gradual reopening of schools and businesses.
“We seem to already be past the bottom of the price declines in Boston,’’ said Chris Salviati, housing economist for Apartment List. “The median rent in Boston jumped by 3 percent from January to February, the largest month-over-month increase among the nation’s 100 largest cities. This could be compounded in the coming months as we approach the late spring and summer months, which normally represent the busy season for the rental market.’’
The rental market in Boston, driven in part by the student population, quickly changed during the swift switch to remote school and work. Apartment occupancy in metro Boston slipped to 95.1 percent as of February 2021, down from 96.2 percent a year earlier, according to Greg Willett, chief economist of RealPage, a property management software company. That means landlords are eager for new tenants.
“The best bargains for renters usually come in the cold weather months, when many households are hesitant to move,’’ said Willett. “This year, however, the introduction of about 10,000 new units in the urban core likely will keep pricing relatively low in the immediate future.’’
While there is no certainty that the rental market is poised to shift right away, renters are advised to take advantage of today’s market conditions.
“The time is now to grab an apartment,’’ said Demetrios Salpoglou, CEO of Boston Pads, an apartment listings site. “Many seasoned landlords and property managers have mentioned this is the best renter’s market we have ever witnessed since 1989. If you see a great apartment at a favorable price, it would be prudent to acquire it immediately. We are currently experiencing incredibly high search volume on our network of websites.’’
Numerous landlords are allowing renters to move in with just one month of rent rather than requiring an additional security deposit and last month’s rent, said Salpoglou, and more than 55 percent of landlords in Boston are paying a broker’s commission to get their apartments rented.
The best deals now tend to be in the urban core, according to Apartment List.
“None of the surrounding suburbs have seen rents fall as dramatically as they have in Boston proper, and in some places, rents have barely declined at all,’’ said Salviati. “In Quincy, for example, rents are down by 6.9 percent — a notable decline, but far less than in Boston. In Framingham, meanwhile, rents are down by just 1 percent.’’
Rental declines flatten the farther out into the suburbs you go, said Willett.
“Copious amounts of high-quality apartments, some of them former short-term corporate rentals, became available in core areas of Boston, including downtown, the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and the North End, where there are great deals to be found,’’ said Salpoglou.
Normally at least 12,000 to 16,000 apartments are rented to international students, said Salpoglou. Since they are mainly absent this year, vacancy rates are higher and rents are lower in Allston, Fenway, and Symphony, where many students live.
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