scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Tight housing market in suburbs west of Boston leaves renters reeling

Karen LaChance did some packing earlier this month as she and her husband moved from a house to an apartment in Framingham.Lisa Poole for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Rents in area communities have soared over the past year, in some cases posting double-digit percentage increases as the number of available apartments and homes declines, recent reports indicate.

Asking prices for monthly rents have gone up in both upscale and middle-income communities, according to July figures from, a website that tracks all rentals, including apartments and houses.

“I have a lot of people looking and not much to show them,” said Dana Whiddon, rental agent for Bowes Real Living in Arlington.

In Concord, the median rental listings rose 7.7 percent over the year to $2,752, while Plainville posted a 12.3 percent year-over-year increase to $2,031. Asking rents in Arlington jumped a stunning 14.6 percent to $2,416, according to Zillow.


Whiddon said she has only three apartments in Arlington to show renters, whereas typically she would have eight or nine. That’s been a big factor in driving rents up, she said.

Across Middlesex County, asking price for rents rose 9.6 percent in August compared with the same month last year, according to an online real estate research and brokerage firm,

Seeing the market change at first hand is Karen LaChance, who recently sold the house she bought with her husband 26 years ago in Framingham to move into an apartment in their hometown as they prepare for retirement.

LaChance, a veteran real estate broker who spent years selling homes, found herself suddenly dealing with a tight market in which rents were spiraling and landlords were charging fees for parking spaces, cats — even just for the privilege of applying.

“It was eye-opening, all these little fees,” she said. “They get you by these little fees — that was the most irritating experience of being a potential renter.”

The median listing for rent hit $2,084 in Framingham in July, a 7.4 percent increase over last year, according to Zillow.


Overall, Wellesley had the highest asking rents in the region in July, with a median of $3,547 after a 6.7 percent gain over the year, Zillow reported. In Newton, the median was $2,920, in Waltham $2,230, and in Marlborough $1,952.

Many apartment dwellers are opting to stay put and renew leases in a market where available apartments are scarce and rents are rising, said Darryl Ricci, broker owner of Vanguard in Waltham.

And that, in turn, is helping push up rents even more by keeping units off the market, he said, adding that he hasn’t seen such a tight rental market since the mid-1990s.

One Waltham landlord with a 12-unit building typically gives him three to four listings as the fall rental season approaches. This year he had only one, Ricci said, with the rest of his tenants deciding to renew their leases.

“There is not any question that rents have gone up,” Ricci said. “The supply of apartments, it is just not there. The landlord has the upper hand.”

You don’t have to tell that to Karen Dyer. A management consultant, she is facing sticker shock in Concord a year after moving out to the suburbs with her husband and daughter from their two-bedroom apartment in Somerville.

“We are paying almost twice as much,” said Dyer, who shells out more than $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom house in West Concord. “The listings for rentals were very few and far between. It took a long time to find a place.”


There were 8,000 vacant homes and apartments in Middlesex County as of July, just 1.4 percent of the total and less than half the national average of 3.4 percent, said Jed Kolko, chief economist for Trulia.

“Here is what is going on — both the job growth and the low vacancies are pushing up rents,” Kolko said.

As rents rise, it could help fuel demand in the for-sale market, with buying suddenly becoming more attractive financially.

“The market is about to change,” said Lesley Palmiter, a broker at William Raveis specializing in Natick and Wellesley, among other towns. “I think when they compare buying to renting, I think more people will decide to buy, where before they would have rented.”

Among those weighing their options is Dyer. Her rent is about to jump, with a 5 percent annual increase built into her two-year lease.

Yet when she looks at other houses she considered renting a year ago, the picture is not encouraging either. Many of these homes have also seen rent increases.

“Maybe we should buy something,” Dyer mused. Or, they could simply stay put. “We are definitely considering our options.”

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at