In 2000, the first apartment I rented in Boston was a basement-level one-bedroom. One of the unit’s four windows didn’t open. The place was sweltering in the summer, freezing in the winter. The kitchen — no bigger than a closet — had a stove dating back to the 1960s. And there were mice.
I didn’t expect much else. In fact, I felt lucky to have snagged the place. For decades, Boston had a limited rental supply, and, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, about half of the city’s roughly 180,000 units were built before 1940.
But times are changing — for the well to do.
The median rent in the Boston metro area has jumped 87.5 percent in four years, according to Zillow.com — from $1,200 in 2010 to $2,250 last May. And in the past few years, the Boston area has experienced a boom in luxury rental construction. All over, apartment complexes have sprouted up with posh amenities like rooftop pools, yoga studios, community gardens, pet services, private clubs, and free onsite Zipcars, said John Kobs, chief executive at Apartment List , a search engine. “There’s a massive increase in supply of expensive apartments, but keep in mind our supply of apartments for the whole city went up over the past year.” In 2014, he said, there are 9,277 rental units with high price tags (ones that rent for more than $5,000). In 2013? There were 3,223. And there are more luxury apartments on the way.
Boston’s low condominium inventory is a major reason why the apartment industry has surged, said Joshua A. Golden, a principal/broker of Luxury Residential Group , which specializes in luxury apartment rentals and condominium sales. “People can’t find the condos they want, and there are so few of them that bidding wars are taking place,’’ Golden said. “For a lot of people, it makes more sense to rent.”
And they’d rather not make compromises on unit size or finishes, and with buildings like One Back Bay on Clarendon Street — which has an onsite gourmet market offering catering and grocery delivery and a children’s play and party room — boasting doormen, large-scale lobbies, and 24-hour concierges, renters are getting far more than they dreamed they could a few years ago.
“Who the renter is has changed,” says Doug Arsham, one of the developers behind one of the city’s newest luxury rental developments, Radian . “It used to be only a certain age would rent, students and younger people. But all ages are learning now that you don’t need to own your home. Ownership has benefits, but also drawbacks and risks. Not being locked into a mortgage means you have flexibility, if you tire of your lifestyle or if you get a job somewhere else, you can move.”
Radian, located on Kingston Street, at the nexus of the Leather and Financial districts and Chinatown, is along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. The 240-unit complex opened for occupancy in mid-May. Pricing begins at $2,885 for a studio and $4,100 for a two-bedroom. Penthouses start at $4,760.
Arsham, vice president of development with Forest City/Boston, worked with Noam Ron, project manager of Hudson Group North America, to create an atmosphere that echoes the feel of a boutique hotel. “Rentals can feel so vanilla,” said Arsham. The building has a striking curved facade, and the walls of the posh lobby are adorned with works by local artists. According to Ron and Arsham, it’s all about the details, even in the onsite gym.
“People use the gym in different ways. They don’t just want to cycle. They want one that can connect to the Internet. They want to be able to race someone next to them or in the next country,” said Arsham, who outfitted Radian’s fitness center with weight training and Technogym cardio equipment. There’s an adjacent yoga and pilates studio.
“We worked to create space for people to gather outside their homes,” said Ron. Radian has a catering kitchen for cooking demonstrations, and special events will be held in the lounge. Townsman, chef Matthew Jennings’s latest restaurant, will open on the premises later this year. “The idea is to create a third place to be when you’re not at home or work,” said Ron.
“We want to give people a reason to meet each other,” Arsham added.
Indeed, the concept is catching on at complexes all over the city.
Curran Robinette, 27, chose a one-bedroom unit in The Kensington , a 381-unit tower that opened near Chinatown last year, largely for the social component. “It’s a great young building with a good crowd of successful people — lawyers, people who work in the finance and tech industries,” said Robinette. On Wednesday evenings the building hosts “Mix & Mingle” events.
Rents at The Kensington are $2,800 for a studio and $3,500 for a one-bedroom up to $8,825 for a penthouse. The complex has an outdoor swimming pool on the sixth floor, a sizeable gym, a game room, a business center with Mac computers, a pet spa and dog-walking services, a 24-hour concierge, and a private parking garage. Robinette said the building’s location may not be optimal, but the amenities and the finishes — recycled-glass kitchen countertops, stainless-steel appliances, in-unit laundry, walk-in closets — make it worthwhile.
Golden’s rental prospects are a varied group that includes empty nesters from the suburbs eager to try city living before taking the plunge and purchasing. But young professionals, like Robinette, make up the largest segment of the burgeoning rental population, Golden said.
Costs are steep and those high rents are beginning to price people out of the market, said Golden, who expects complexes to begin offering incentives to sign on the dotted line like a free month’s rent. But take heart. “At some point, all the new supply is going to drive rents back down,” he said.
In the meantime, folks looking for a less expensive alternative can venture over to Chelsea, where rents at One North of Boston , a 230-unit complex that partially opened for occupancy in April, range from $1,480 for studios to $2,600 for three-bedroom apartments. Units have bamboo floors, high ceilings, and expansive windows. The rent is lower, but the amenities are on par with Boston complexes. In particular, pet owners are drawn to One North for the onsite doggie day care and large dog park. Take Chris Meyer, 34, who moved in with his wife last spring. “One North encourages people to own dogs, which is pretty unheard of. Around here everyone has dogs,” says Meyer, who is adopting a puppy.
He had hoped to meet younger couples in his demographic, and he hasn’t been disappointed. “We’ve been meeting people in the gym, in the elevator, and in the club room,” he said.
“It’s like living in a hotel. There’s a big lobby with lots of places to sit and have a cup of coffee, and the gym has all the bells and whistles.”