The One Thing COVID Didn’t Affect This Year? Boston Rents.

The only constant is change...and Boston rent prices going up.

Boston Rent overview

The median price for a one-bedroom apartment in Boston skyrocketed this year, regaining for the losses experienced during 2020./Chart via Zumper/

We’ve hit everyone’s favorite time of year, where we get recaps and round-ups that look back at what we listened to, what we read, and how much rent in Boston (already one of the priciest cities in the country) went up. No? Looking at rent increase isn’t your favorite roundup? Think of it like your Spotify wrapped, but not fun or surprising, especially if you’re a renter or trying to rent. Because the harsh reality is after a year of downturn (perhaps one of the only silver linings of this ongoing COVID nightmare we live in), Boston rent is back on the rise.

We kicked off the year with the aftermath of 2020’s city exodus still lingering. According to Zumper, Boston entered 2021 with the median price of a one-bedroom apartment being $2,020 and $2,500 for a two-bedroom. Great for apartment hunters, but not so great for property owners, who’d seen a nearly 20 percent dip in rent for one-bedrooms and a 14 percent dip for two-bedrooms over the course of the last year as renters fled the city. And it wasn’t just Boston: Jeff Andrews, a data journalist with Zumper and author of their National Rent Report, says rent prices had been in a “free fall” since March 2020, especially in east coast cities.

“It was just a case of people who had the means to move, or lost their job and had to leave, or their company went work-from-home, so they decided to move in with their parents,” he says. “It led to a small exodus.”

Then in February of this year, the first tremors of change were detected, and median rent in Boston went up from $2,020 to $2,050. As more people rolled up their sleeves to get their COVID vaccines, rent prices went up as well, as we entered into our “new normal” (those were the days). Landlords, who’d been offering incentives like a month of free rent or a complimentary window unit, started to jack up their prices. After a slight dip in November, Bostonians saw a high in rent prices in December, with Zumper reporting that the median monthly rent of a one-bedroom and two-bedroom were $2,590 and $3,000, respectively.

“Once July hit, a lot of incentives started dropping off, because things were back to normal,” says Ryan McCormick, rental/property manager with Metro Realty Corp. “After September, there was a lack of inventory. Prices have increased to what they were pre-COVID and even higher. It was a good time to be a renter in 2020, (but) now I think we’re back to normal.”

Normal now means going back to no rental inventory and lots of apartment hunters, with some units getting up to 40 applicants, McCormick says. In other words, looking for an apartment can be just as competitive as finding a house. Fun! As for what will happen heading into 2022, it depends on who you ask. Despite a new wave of COVID cases thanks to the latest variant, McCormick sees Boston rents continuing to rise next year thanks to sparse inventory and high renter demand, a trend that’s been happening since way before COVID came around, thanks to the city’s housing shortage. But now people may be in for some sticker shock after grabbing a rent deal in 2020. McCormick predicts landlords, seeing this increase in value, will raise rents even for tenants who may have a cheaper price thanks to pandemic pricing.

“We’re just weathering the storm now with COVID,” McCormick says. “Boston’s a city like no other. With all the schools, it’s always renter-heavy. Unless something drastic hits the U.S., I don’t see it changing. I think it’ll go back to pre-COVID prices.”

Andrews, on the other hand, thinks it’s possible Boston, along with other cities nationwide, will see a smaller version of what happened in 2020 in the new year, as Omnicron makes its presence known by infecting even the vaccinated among us.

“In the last week, we are seeing a massive spike in COVID cases,” he says. “It’s just a wild card…It’s looking like this wave is going to be bad and sustained. In that situation, people are not going to be moving at the clip they were before, so you might see things stagnate because of Omnicron.”

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