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HOW TO: Find a Rental in Cambridge or Somerville

With September 1 looming in the not-so-distant future, I am beginning to field a lot of calls from friends, acquaintances and friends-of-friends looking for help with their apartment search. And while I work exclusively in home sales, not rentals, I remember my own days as a renter, desperately searching for a reasonably-priced, un-grungy apartment in Cambridge, so I always try to offer whatever assistance I can in the form of advice. So here it is: my best guidance on finding a rental in the wonderful cities of Cambridge & Somerville.

First, you need to know that when looking for a rental, is that an agent only gets you so far, and you end up doing a lot of the legwork yourself. This is because rental listings aren’t centralized in a multiple listing service as with homes for sale. While *some* listings may be posted on the MLS, many (perhaps most) are listed independently by rental agencies that don’t “co-broke,” meaning allow agents from outside their office to show their listings. This means you will generally end up looking at properties with several different agents from several different agencies — some more professional and ethical than others. On top of that, a lot of landlords are now listing their places themselves on Craig’s List, avoiding agencies altogether, so expect to spend a lot of time on that site.

Here are some strategies for finding an apartment in Cambridge or Somerville:

Find a reputable rental agent — As I said, this can’t be your sole tactic, but it’s worth connecting with a reputable rental agent at one of the larger real estate offices, who can set you up with access to MLS listings, and may have an inside track on new listings before they hit the market. They can also be very helpful in providing guidance on the timing of your search, what you can expect for your budget, etc. I’m happy to connect you to a great rental agent if you get in touch.

Search Craig’s List — Here, you’ll find landlord-direct listings as well as listings posted by agents, many of which WON’T appear on MLS. You have to really be on top of this, checking the site often, as good listings go fast. Beware, though, of scam listings — there are many. General rule of thumb, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Call the management office of the larger, professionally-managed apartment buildings — There are several of these around. Many are *luxury* apartments with perks such as central air, garage parking and other amenities. Not surprisingly, they will generally be at the high end of the price range. Here are some links worth checking out — this is not a comprehensive list — just a few that came immediately to mind:

  • Equity Apartments (formerly Archstone) — manages apartments around the country, including a handful of buildings in Cambridge

  • University Park Apartments — four luxury apartment buildings near Kendall/MIT & Central Square

  • 7 Cameron — new apartment complex in Cambridge, near Davis Square, also has easy access to Porter

  • Watermark — on Third Street in Kendall Square, near MIT

If you’re in any way affiliated with Harvard or MIT, reach out to their housing offices, which also help with off-campus rentals:

Search Sabbatical Homes website — calling itself “the academic community’s resource for home exchanges and home rentals worldwide since 2000,” this site features (mostly) furnished rentals in and around university towns. Not sure if you are required to be affiliated with a university, but since many of you out there are, you might want to check it out.

Alright, I think I’ve tapped all my rental resources here — if anyone has further suggestions, please post!


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