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Looking for an apartment to rent in the US while living in another country? How can I rent an apartment in Massachusetts from abroad?
Most people interested in renting an apartment in the Boston area hire a real estate agent. A person that wants to lease an apartment or a house is referred to as a tenant. The rental agent and the tenant sign a contract (the Rental Fee Acknowledgment form). It’s a simple form that states the agent’s commission. It will be fulfilled only if the rental agent finds the right apartment that satisfies the tenant’s needs (i.e., number of bedrooms, bathrooms, parking spaces, location, move in date, etc.). If the agent fails to find suitable rental options, no money is exchanged.
Important note; if someone asks you to pre-pay the rental agent fee before apartments are shown, our advice is not to get involved. Essentially, hiring an agent is free until the tenant
The owner of an apartment or a house is referred to as the landlord.
After the agent presents several options to the prospective client, the agent schedules appointments with the listing agent (the listing agent is the agent that represents the owner/landlord). Often, when international clients try to find housing to lease from abroad, their rental agent will visit each property and present the tenant with either a set of pictures and a brief description of the property and the amenities or a video tour of the property. If satisfied with one of the properties and the tenant wishes to proceed, the process of filling out the Rental Application is initiated. This application form, together with the initial payment is transferred to the owner of the property. The tenant would then wire funds to the Real Estate agency where the licensed agent is employed. (Never wire money to anyone’s personal bank account – it is illegal for the agent to collect funds in their bank account). Generally, to reserve a property during the application process, one-month rent payment is required. The landlord is presented with the first-month rent check and the application to make their decision. It is common for the owner to review the tenant's credit history, his references from previous landlords if any, gross yearly income and decides on the tenant within a day or two. It is the responsibility of the agent to present the application in the best possible light for the owner to consider a potential tenant.
When a US citizen applies for an apartment, the process is simpler. Each US national is assigned an individual number, a Social Security number. The primary purpose of the SSN is tax accounting of employees and pension accounting. Therefore, the owner can get accurate information about the income and the credit history of the new tenant. A Social Security number is required for opening a bank account; it’s needed for a loan, for a driver’s license, for social and medical assistance, for renting a home, etc. Since we’re discussing foreign passport holders who do not have an SSN, there is no reliable information about such people in regarding their income or their credit history. It is much easier for the rental agent to present an application of a US SSN holder to the property owner. The agent would simply check the SSN through the US credit report database and would contact the tenant’s previous landlords for a reference. When it comes to renting to Internationals, however, the agent would need to provide as much detail as possible to the owner so that the tenant is seriously considered as a potential tenant. The agent may ask the tenant to provide a written job offer, University paperwork, or a bank statement to make the candidacy look stronger. We’ve noticed a rising trend in specialists, doctors, and students coming to Boston from around the world. Because a foreign international will not have an SSN and credit history, it’s normal to be asked to include a bank statement together with the application. This is not something that you should be concerned about – this is standard practice. The bank statement would show funds sufficient to pay rent throughout the lease. An Apartment Lease is the official rental contract between the tenant and the landlord. Some property owners that are looking to rent their home may request other documents. If the tenant is coming to the US for work, you might be asked to provide some proof of income or your passport pictures issued in the country where you currently live.
How much will hiring an agent cost me?
The rental agent fee is one month rent. Keep in mind, that while the agent is looking to find an apartment for you, he has your best interest in mind. Your agent will attempt to negotiate the rental fee and your monthly rent with the owner of the property or the listing agent. It is not unusual for the agent to negotiate lower rent or a lower fee as well. Some owners, when presented with a strong rental candidate, will agree to pay half or the entire rental fee – which means that the agent’s services are free, and the tenant is only responsible for paying their monthly rent. If, however, the tenant pays the entire fee (one month rent), the fee is divided between your agent and the listing agent. To take it even further, your agent would need to split the fee with the Real Estate broker they’re working for. For example, if your monthly rent is $2000, your rental agent will make about $500.
What else would I need to pay to complete my rental transaction?
At this point, you’ve reserved your new place, and the owner has your check that covers your first month’s rent. Now you will be asked to wire the rest of the money. Most apartment owners will ask for either the first month's rent and the last month's rent, or, first month's rent and a security deposit that you get back at the end of the lease. Under the laws of our state, the landlord cannot ask for more than three months’ worth of rent payments: that is, the maximum that the tenant will pay. This is the rent for the first and last months and the security deposit. If the owner does not wish to reimburse the agent and pay the fee, you will be asked to pay the agent fee. So, your total out of pocket move in cost is three times your rent plus the fee, or two months’ rent plus the fee (3 monthly payments). It’s unusual for the owner to ask for first, last and security but it does happen. The worst-case scenario is that you will need to come up with four times the rent amount to complete the transaction. It sounds like a lot of money, and it is, however, the security deposit will be refunded to you provided that the apartment is in good condition when you leave. The first and last month’s rent is rent that you would have paid anyway. The only money that the tenant will not be spending towards their rent is the agent fee. We would also like to mention that the security deposit funds go into a separate bank account that’s created in your name. This money will be held in that account until the very last day of your tenancy. Once the owner verifies that the condition of the apartment at the end of your lease is acceptable, you get back your security deposit plus any interest that your money has earned while patiently waiting for you in the escrow account.
What determines the relationship between the tenant and the owner?
A Lease Agreement is the only document that cements your relationship with the owner of the property. Once it is signed, you’re responsible for fulfilling your obligation as a tenant, that is, you’re responsible for paying your monthly rent until the end of the lease. If your lease is for 12 months and your monthly rent is $2000.00 per month, the lease will state that in total you own $24,000.00 to be paid before your lease expires. The lease is the only contractual document that is drawn between the tenant and the landlord; it specifies the financial terms, duration of the lease, the address of the property you’re renting and needs to be signed by both parties, you and the owner of the property you’re renting. The owner may include several addendums to go with the lease that the tenant would need to initial or sign as well. A typical addendum may state something like – “no animals would be allowed to live in the apartment during the occupancy.” Many owners will present you with the apartment Condition Statement as well. In the state of Massachusetts, you will have 14 days after you move into your new place, to inspect it and to sign off on the apartment Condition Statement. If you notice a broken tile in the bathroom or a scratch on the floor, you will point out these defect(s) to the owner. After being made aware of the defect, the owner would not hold back any of the security deposit to fix the scratch or the tile once the lease term has been completed.
Note, as a tenant you should obtain apartment Renter’s Insurance. Typically, average Renter’s Insurance is about $20.00 - $30.00 per month. The Insurance covers anything that might happen during your stay in your rental apartment. If a tree outside your bedroom window falls and breaks one of the windows and damages your TV which in turn damages the floor – you’re covered by your Renter’s Insurance. Obviously, this is an over-simplified example, and some complex issues could potentially arise but having insurance is always advisable.
Is there anything else that I might need to pay?
Some owners require a key deposit. This is a one-time deposit of $30.00 - $50.00 and whether you’ll be asked to pay it depends on the owner. In our experience, only about 20 - 30% of owners will ask you to pay the key deposit that you get back at the end of the lease.
The point of this article is to provide some insight into renting an apartment from abroad. Chances are you will not be getting a cat or a dog while staying in the US, though this has happened before, so we’ll briefly cover that as well. The presence of pets, most often, implies an increase in rent. Animals may damage the property. Therefore, as an example, the presence of a cat would mean an increase in rent by about $50.00 per month, a dog will cost more. The amount of additional payments for pets depends largely on the owner of the property. However, the rental market in this area is such that landlords often refuse to take tenants even with cats. When looking for a property, your agent will have a difficult time finding something decent or newly renovated where the landlord is open to having a tenant with a pet. Approximately80% of owners do not allow pets, so our suggestion – don’t do it.
How to find a realtor who specializes in rental housing
There are multiple ways of doing this. The obvious one is for you to contact us; New England Premier Properties. We will handle everything on your behalf with the utmost professionalism. We’ll look for a property based on your rental requirements. We’ll negotiate with the owner and will do our best to lessen the impact of your move in costs. We’ll prepare the documents and will handle your international wire and payments to the owner of the property. We’re experienced in International transactions, and have access to 90% of the rental properties in Massachusetts.
You could also search through the rental listings available on the internet and once you’ve identified a desirable listing, reply to it online. The agent for that property will email or call you back with the availability of a particular property or ask you additional questions to have a better understanding of your rental needs. In our opinion, you’re better off finding one real estate agent that you will be working with, versus replying to multiple ads and communicating with multiple agents at the same time. Most agents know each other. Often agents that work for different Real Estate companies know each other as well. If you’re contacting multiple people, there’s a good chance that the word would get around that you’re “shopping around.” This could give the impression that you might not be a loyal customer and the agents you’ve already contacted may stop replying to your requests. Once you find an agent who’s responsive and offers to help, our advice is to stick with that person. Here in the US, there are only two nationwide apartment databases that all agents use. All agents have access to the same inventory. So, if you happen to find an agent that you like, someone who appears eager to help, it is safe to stay with that agent because they will have access to any apartment that’s available for rent. While working with your agent, if you happen to notice an online listing that your agent has not mentioned, feel free to ask them about that property. Your agent will be able to help you with any apartment you find on your own regardless of who’s advertising the property. Should you find something that has someone else’s information on the advertisement, simply forward that property link onto your agent and he/she would be able to help you just as much as the agent who’s advertising it would.
We would also like to mention that in the United States, rental housing for visitors that are looking to study in the United States is handled by University relocation/temporary housing offices. If you’re coming to the US to study, contacting the University might be your best bet or at least a place where you should start your search. Most educational institutions or employing companies will recommend an agency that provides its students and employees with housing.
Our agency, for example, works closely with foreign nationals, including Chinese and Russians. Boston has much to offer in the areas of education and medical care. A lot of foreign doctors come to Massachusetts for continuing education, temporary fellowships, and employment. Some send their children to study in the US and parents rely on us to find appropriate housing for their children.
We’ve also seen that some parents prefer to purchase property versus renting. Some clients prefer to buy housing while their child is in college (four years). This can be a profitable investment of capital because the value of real estate in Massachusetts is unlike in any other part of the US and has shown consistent growth over the years. It is not unusual for a property purchased four years ago to double in value. Any house or an apartment purchased in or around Boston today can be sold for a much higher price four years later. We have seen a couple of instances where a child’s education at Harvard was entirely covered by the profit made on the sale of real estate purchased before the start of college and sold after the graduation.
It’s difficult to find rental apartments that offer furniture. Usually, there is only a refrigerator, a stove, a microwave, and the laundry machines. There are furnished apartments, but it is an exception to the rule in this market.
Apartments, townhouses, single-family homes, duplexes, etc. are mostly private. There is virtually no public housing available in the US. Most educational institutions offer very expensive dormitories where the cost per month is considerably higher than what you would expect to pay for a rental located close to the school. A typical dorm room will cost about $1,500.00 per bed per month. Keep in mind that your child will have as many as three other roommates living in the same room. You would have to worry about things like purchasing a refrigerator and other appliances and having to remove everything from their room during the summer months. That is because those who live in a dormitory at an educational institution would only be allowed to stay in their room during the school year. In our experience, most students try to find cheaper and more comfortable accommodation options outside of school.
How much does it cost to rent an apartment in and around Boston?
Everything depends on the location. In the city center, with all the shops, restaurants and transportation, entertainment centers, cafes, etc. the rent is much higher. The farther from the center you choose to look, the cheaper it will be. In the center of Boston, an apartment in good condition with one or two bedrooms will cost somewhere between $2,500.00 - $3,000.00 a month. It’s important to consider the nuances: often the rent includes cold, hot water and heating, but as an example, electricity is almost always extra. According to the law, water is not included in the rental price if a single house with a separate water meter is rented by one family. The landlord may require that you pay for water. Getting utilities assigned to your name is simple, and if you happen to have questions regarding your monthly utilities, we can address that as well. Generally, your utilities will cost anywhere from $50.00 - $150.00 per month depending on the size of the apartment.
If you happen to be looking for an apartment in a good school district, typically your rent will be higher as well. If you’re looking for a luxury building with a concierge or if you absolutely must have stainless steel appliances, your rent would also be higher. We suggest you share with your agency as much information as possible regarding your rental requirements. This will help to ensure that your new apartment is a great fit.
What happens if the rent payments are not made on time?
If the landlord does not receive rent on time, the owner has the right to demand your rental payment to be made immediately. Normally, being one or two days late is acceptable. However, if you stop paying rent, the owner would fill out a special form with which the official process of eviction begins. As a rule, everything is resolved by negotiation. Most owners would rather avoid having to fill out additional forms and take you to court for a late or a non-payment. So, communication with the owner is essential. Owners are people just like you and I and having an open dialogue with the owner would resolve most rent-related issues. There is such a thing as a "late fee,” a penalty that is charged if the delay in payment is more than seven days. The amount of this fine is specified initially in the lease agreement. Based on our practice, it can be from $25.00 to about $50.00. The eviction of a malicious defaulter (the process of removing the tenant from an apartment is called eviction) occurs only through the court system. It can take as long as a half a year. The legal process has consequences for the defaulter as well, but we’d rather not get into this topic as it is not the focus of this article.
How does the tenant leave the rented housing after the rental period is over?
As was mentioned above, when a person is just settling in, the owner and the tenant do a walk-through of the apartment or a house. You would check the working capacity of household appliances, plumbing, heating systems, etc. If there are any problems, the landlord must address them within 30 days. If the damage is cosmetic, the owner will sign off on whatever is found, and your security deposit will not be held back as a result of pre-existing issues that would be noted in the apartment condition statement.
If something in the apartment stops working, like a toilet or the heating system, then the owner must repair it within one day. If this does not happen, the landlord is required to provide the tenant (you) with other housing (often a hotel) for the time of repair. Such an inspection is also carried out when the tenant leaves. If there’s anything that’s found during the exit walk-through that was not covered on the apartment condition statement at the start of the lease, the tenant can repair the damage at their own expense or the owner will withhold a part or all of the security deposit – this is something that very rarely happens.
A typical lease would usually run for 12-months. If you want to rent the same apartment for 6-months, it will cost more per month. The rental market in this part of the US is in such high demand that most owners will not consider a 6-month lease. Most owners have very little difficulty renting out their apartments so if an owner has received multiple applicants, chances are the applicant who’s willing to stay 12-months would be chosen.
The most popular rental cycle in the Boston area is September 1st. Most International students begin their studies at the start of the school year, so the demand is extremely high. Once you’ve chosen a property that’s been presented to you by your agent, it is extremely important to move fast. It is not unusual for the owner to have 4-5 applicants looking to rent the same apartment. At that point, your chance of getting approved is just like anyone else’s that has applied for the same apartment. Most owners would choose a local tenant, someone who has an established credit history and references from other landlords. We can’t stress enough how important it is to apply right away once your agent has found an apartment that you’d like to rent.
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