Finding An Off-Campus Apartment

Welcome to the Harvard Business School! Not only will you be spending the next two years at one of the finest business schools in the world, you also get to spend them in one of the most exciting and culturally diverse cities in the United States. The areas around HBS offer a wide assortment of housing, dining, and shopping possibilities, as well as almost limitless entertainment and nightlife.

Whether you are living on or off campus, however, a word of warning to those not from cities with housing shortages and high rents. The housing market in and around Boston is extremely tight, with typical vacancy rates as low as one percent in Boston replica watches, Cambridge and surrounding areas. Consequently, Boston’s housing prices have always been among the highest in the country. Only a few U.S. cities — New York and San Francisco being the most common examples — rival Boston’s high cost of living. According to Money Magazine’s cost of living calculator, Boston rents are approximately 48 percent higher than the national average.

So, why live off campus? Perhaps you prefer a neighborhood environment, tree-lined streets, and family-style homes. Conversely, you might prefer to live in a lively, more metropolitan area. Both can be had around HBS. Close proximity to such amenities as retail stores, supermarkets, restaurants, dry cleaners, and the metro are often reasons to live off campus. Also, students who do not place well in the HBS housing lottery (either due to bad luck or to a third-round admittance) must resign themselves to finding off-campus housing.


The search for an apartment in Cambridge, Allston, and surrounding areas can be time consuming, frustrating, even infuriating. Some searches take no time at all (for those of you who were born lucky), while others can take days. Be prepared for some ups and downs during your apartment search, but once you’ve settled in to your new “home” you will quickly realize what a great decision you’ve made.

Here are some things to think about, which may help you in your search.

Location: If you plan to walk to campus, Cambridge and Allston are your best bets. 20-minute walks to school are not uncommon. Recognize that it is a 10-minute walk from the center of Harvard’s undergraduate campus to your classroom at HBS. Having a bike, of course, can speed up the commute // If you live on the Cambridge side of the Charles River, there are three bridges that provide access to HBS (two for cars and one footbridge). Bring a map to see which of these would be more convenient. The Harvard Square T-station (Red Line), located in Cambridge, is conveniently nearby, which makes cheaper housing in neighborhoods around Porter Square and Central Square more accessible. If you have a car and plan to drive to school, you can set your sights even further (e.g., Somerville, Brighton, Watertown, Arlington, Belmont). Issues to keep in mind are the cold wintry months of January and February as well as your transportation time in the morning before study group and/or class.

Cost: As mentioned earlier, rent can be expensive. Expect to pay $900 – $1,750 per month for a one bedroom and up to $2,500 for a two bedroom. You can find cheaper apartments, of course, but that will largely depend on what you are willing to sacrifice in terms of size, location, or distance to campus.

Cambridge is generally the most expensive area around HBS, but it offers higher quality housing and the most local amenities. In general, the farther you are from Boston and Cambridge, the less a house or apartment will cost. Also, leases requiring a security deposit, as well as prepayment of the rent for the first and last month are quite common in this area.

Bring your checkbook (and have credit references handy), as you may need to settle your rent payments immediately after choosing an apartment.

Size: Due to the high costs, many of you will probably end up living in apartments less than half the size of your previous homes. Unfortunately, this is just part of the reality of Boston’s housing dilemma. Some apartments, despite their small size, can offer other benefits and may be absolutely charming. Think about whether you require more than one or two bedrooms.

Style: The most characteristic New England apartment is a single-floor flat in a large multi-family house. These offer flexibility in deciding which rooms to use for living or sleeping space, and offer the charms (and quirks) of older homes. Of course, there are also many larger apartment buildings, and even a few with “luxury” features (doorman, parking, etc).

Keep in mind that most apartment buildings are relatively old, so you will be lucky to find central air-conditioning, a dishwasher, or washing machines in many apartments in the area. Parking availability is limited, but if you register your car and get a parking permit, you will have a much wider choice of residential street parking.

Timing: Finally, think about when you wish to rent. Ideally, you will probably want to rent your apartment starting August 1. However, depending on when you come to Boston for your search, you may be forced to rent earlier than when you plan to arrive. Typical leases last for a full year.

Speaking of time, you will probably want to plan your search early. June through August is peak season for the Boston housing market. Although this is the ideal time for students to find housing prior to the fall semester, apartments are more expensive then and are rented to tenants at an almost frenetic pace. Typical apartment searches begin about two months prior to the desired lease start, but it’s always possible to find something available the next day. If you see an apartment that you like, TAKE IT! Competition for good property is so fierce the apartment you like may be rented by someone else within hours.


There are a number of resources for finding off-campus housing. First, the Harvard Housing Office is a good place to start. Located at 7 Holyoke Street, the office can advise you on your housing options. For access, you will need to bring proof of your affiliation with Harvard (such as your letter of admission to HBS) along with photo identification.

Harvard does own a number of off-campus apartments and buildings. Some of these apartments become available as leftovers from the housing lottery. To get these, you must show up or call very early (some students have even camped outside the housing office overnight). These apartments are available on a first-come-first-serve-basis, but must usually be taken sight unseen or with minimal time to make a decision.

Most likely you will start with the Housing Office’s bulletin boards, on which you can find recent postings by apartment and homeowners looking for tenants. The cards on the board list key features and will also note whether an additional broker’s fee is required for a lease.

Come prepared with pen and paper — and a mobile phone. You’ll join other students perusing the board to find affordable, appealing rentals and will most likely need to leave numerous messages and a number where you can be reached.

If you are single and concerned about housing costs, you can also use the housing office to find one (or more) roommates to share an apartment or house.

Second, there are a large number of apartment locator services and real estate agencies in the Boston and Cambridge areas that can help you with your apartment search. Some of the more reputable firms will have the best listings. Many agencies will share listings, however, so keep track of what you’ve seen. The Harvard Housing Office has a complete list of the local area real estate agencies and is available via fax on request.

The downside to real estate agencies is that you will most likely end up paying them a broker’s fee (typically equal to a full month’s rent). Also, during peak season, many of these a
gencies are very busy and require an appointment in advance. Often, the market is so tight that the brokers may only have a few listings to offer you that day or that week (depending on your requirements).

Apartments are rented so quickly during this time, that many prospective tenants will sign contracts with agents on the spot. It may be worth making appointments with several brokers from different agencies to ensure your chances of seeing the widest range of options.

If you are willing to do the search entirely on your own, a third resource is the Boston area newspapers (e.g., the Boston Globe, Boston Herald). These newspapers also have their apartment listings on-line for up-to-date and customized searches. The Sunday editions will have the newest listings.

The upside is that you can avoid costly broker’s fees by dealing with the landlords directly. The downside is that many of the owners may be hard to reach, particularly during peak months when their voicemail systems are immediately filled to capacity from eager students. If you plan to be in town only for a short while, this may not be your best option.

Finally, a great resource is current HBS students. An easy way to land a decent apartment is to take over the lease from an outgoing student. Pick these apartments up (possibly sight unseen) and you will save on broker’s fees.