How to Find a Modern yet Affordable Apartment in Boston

If you are searching for a “modern yet affordable” apartment in Boston, prepare for a difficult search. Modern apartments are rare because the average residence in Boston is more than 75 years old, while only 10% of Boston’s housing is less than 25 years old.

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The huge blue chunk on the left of this chart is not a mistake! More than 50% of all Boston housing was built before 1939, which is the earliest year for which the US Census Bureau collects data. The real average is likely much older than 1939, considering that many of Boston’s central neighborhoods, including Back Bay, North End, and Beacon Hill have been settled for hundreds of years.

If you are viewing a “typical” Boston rental, it will be over 75 years old. You should expect the following features:

  • No elevator
  • Squeaky floors
  • No dishwasher
  • No fan in the bathroom, just a window
  • You can’t control the heat – the heat for the entire building is either “on” or “off”

What about Renovations?

True, an apartment or house can easily be renovated no matter how long ago it was built. However, most renovations just involve paint, flooring, and sometimes new sinks and counter tops. It is significantly more expensive to go “inside the walls” and change mechanical systems like plumbing, heating, ventilation, etc. When landlords spend the money to do those renovations they pass it on to you as higher rent.

If you are lucky and find a place that is an exception, with both nice amenities and affordable rent, sign it immediately. If you don’t, the next person will.

Want a Nicer Place?

Make sure your budget fits your expectations. For example: about 10% of Boston residential buildings were built in the last 25 years (1990 or newer). To get one of these places, your budget should be in the top 10% as well.

If you Can’t Increase your Budget

It’s OK. You might enjoy living in an old home more than you think! They tend to have much larger windows than newer construction, and nicer woodwork. If the superficial renovations like painting and flooring have been well done, these apartments are often worthy of Better Homes and Gardens – even without the elevator and other modern stuff.

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