New realty service caters to Boston’s millennials
As the annual Sept. 1 shuffle dawned — with leases across the city turning over and U-Hauls clogging roads — many recent college grads transitioned into their first “adult” apartments.
“We graduated, and we don’t want to be in a student neighborhood anymore,” said Lina Juozelskis, 23, who moved from Mission Hill to Fort Hill. “We’re over it.”
After years of grimy kitchens and collegiate debauchery, they’re looking for somewhere clean and a little more quiet. They want to be downtown, close to the T, or preferably within walking distance of work. Maybe near a bar they can make their own — something classy, though, not a rowdy pub. As for amenities, many want laundry machines in the building. Dishwashers are key. Some hope for granite countertops before realizing that may be out of their price range.
Juozelskis said she and her roommates initially tried to find an apartment on Craigslist, but later opted for a realtor.
“It’s pretty sketchy,” she said of the ads they saw online. “You don’t really know what you’re getting into.”
That’s where Vibe Residential, a real estate firm launched this summer by recent Northeastern University grad Nike John, is attempting to help, marketing to millennials, ages 18-34. While the average real estate agent is 57, according to the National Association of Realtors, John, 23, wants to leverage her youth and help her peers “find their spot.” She says she empathizes with those unprepared for “the real world,” and she’s patient when young clients admit they don’t know how to write a check.
Vibe isn’t the first to focus on millennials. It follows in the footsteps of Next Step Realty in New York City, a real estate service that emphasizes one-day searches for college grads. It’s a process entertaining enough, apparently, to merit a new reality TV show, which premiered on ABC Family in August.
This younger crowd is often neglected in real estate, said Next Step’s 27-year-old CEO Blair Brandt, describing his clientele as people “on the up and up” who, when it comes to apartment searching, “have the resources and psychology but don’t have expertise.”
People ages 20-34 comprise more than one-third of Boston’s population, the highest proportion of any major US city, according to the city’s ONEin3 initiative, designed to connect Boston’s millennials with housing and other resources.
While housing Boston’s undergraduate population has long been a challenge, accommodating a growing influx of graduate students, medical interns, and young professionals is putting increasing pressure on the rental market. Graduate student enrollment in Boston has risen by nearly 50 percent since 1995, with more than 15,000 graduate students living off campus in Boston, according to a report issued by Mayor Martin J. Walsh earlier this year.
Boston saw a 25 percent jump in 20- to 24-year-olds between 2000 and 2010, and growth among 20- to 34-year-olds comprised 75 percent of the city’s net population growth in the same time span, according to the Greater Boston Housing Report Card 2014-15.
Although Boston has seen significant growth in its younger population, its residential landscape hasn’t kept pace, said Barry Bluestone, founding director of Northeastern’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.
Boston’s rental market is tough to navigate, complicated by low vacancy rates but also by structural issues, said Alicia Sasser Modestino, an economics and public policy professor at Northeastern. The city’s housing stock is fundamentally “out of synch” with today’s population, she said, dominated by triple-deckers designed for early-20th-century immigrant families, not young professionals.
This is a problem not only because many in their mid-20s might prefer to live independently, but also because by pooling three or four salaries together, millennials are squeezing working-class families out of their homes.
To Bluestone and Modestino, the answer lies in “millennial villages”: clusters of micro-units with access to shared amenities.
Along these lines, one new luxury complex, Ink Block in the South End, markets itself to young professionals on social media, highlighting its myriad amenities: a Whole Foods store accessible without leaving the building, dog-walking services, a rooftop pool, same-day dry cleaning.
“They want a community of other people like them,” said Ted Tye, managing partner at National Development, the firm behind the complex. “It’s not come home and shut the door.”
In general, young people are pickier than they used to be, said Vince Murphy, 49, of South Boston, who has been a broker since 1989.
And there’s another shift: parental scrutiny. It used to be that parents sent along a check, and maybe “once in a blue moon” would visit, Murphy said. Now, mom and dad’s participation is often expected. One of Murphy’s clients, a 30-year-old doctor working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, had his mom fly in to do his apartment search, and he waited until the last minute to join in, showing up just to sign the lease for a place she selected in Mission Hill.
Such involvement isn’t surprising as parents play more of a role in their children’s lives, both in terms of moral and financial support. Indeed, parents often co-sign leases for their 20-something offspring. About 75 percent of Next Step clients take a parent apartment hunting, Brandt said, noting that his company treats parents as clients in their own right.
While they may help with an initial security deposit, parents aren’t necessarily footing the bill. Between 2009 and 2013, the median income for full-time workers ages 18-34 in Boston was $44,548, making it the fourth-highest paid metro area for that age range in the United States, behind San Jose, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. In 1980, Boston didn’t even crack the top 20, according to US Census data compiled by the American Enterprise Institute.
For Brigid Wright, 23, who works in marketing, finding an apartment came down to the following: “Is it quiet? Are people going to annoy me? Can I afford it? Is it close [to work]?”
These criteria landed her in a South End studio for $1,400 a month. Her perspective has changed since college, when it was all about who you lived with. “Now I couldn’t care less what the reputation of my address is,” she said. “I’ve become such a grandma.”