Mike Totten unloaded his parents’ van as he moved into his new apartment in Allston. Then he discharged the months he spent looking for a new place.

“It’s been a pretty tough time, the pace is really fast,” said Totten, 24, who doesn’t have a car and has had to find a room near public transport. “I would say I contacted at least 50 [landlords]because at least half of the people you contact usually don’t respond to you. “

The undergrad eventually found a room for $ 900 per month in a unit with six roommates. And for Allston, he says, it’s a lot.

Mike Totten carries a box of things to load in his mother’s van in Allston. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

Boston has long had one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. The average rent for a non-luxury two-bedroom apartment is over $ 2,500, according to real estate information company Boston Pads.

Tenants have temporarily obtained some relief after the pandemic. As city dwellers fled Boston, landlords competed with landlords for perks like free months of rent or waived brokerage fees.

“We’ve all had a million rentals, especially in the Dorchester office, which has become vacant,” said Gretchen Haas, real estate agent at Dorchester.

But it didn’t last. As quickly as the pandemic slowed down the rental market, the end of containment and the return to universities have boosted demand.

After the University of Massachusetts, Boston announced that she would be hosting in-person classes this semester, Haas said her phone started ringing. And she soon realized that she needed to give clients some extra help to get a spot.

“We’re starting to treat their bid packages like offer packages, and they’re offering a hundred dollars more. [per month], longer lease terms, whatever they can to make their package stand out, ”she said.

Demetrios Salpoglou runs Boston Pads, which collects rental data from thousands of Boston area homeowners. He said the market had not been this hot in the city since before the pandemic.

“We are literally back to pre-COVID levels – almost, almost pre-COVID,” he said.

Before the pandemic, the market was so tight that only 2% of apartments in Boston were empty, data from the Boston Pads showed. But the vacancy rate more than quadrupled, reaching 9% in September.

“The landlords started lowering the security deposits, they started lowering the rent last month and they would pay the broker’s fees,” Salpoglou said. “So the moving expenses have become super easy for people. “

Rent prices today are around $ 2,500 for a non-luxury two-bedroom apartment – almost exactly what they were before the pandemic. Salpoglou said that does not take into account the additional perks that landlords started offering after COVID shutdowns, which could save a tenant $ 7,500 over a year.

But vacancy rates have started to dip again, reducing the need to offer incentives. Only 3% of Boston area apartments are available for rent today – even less than before the pandemic.

Red Tree Real Estate broker Brookline Arthur Deych believes his rental business will continue to grow as more people return to the city. But he said the state of the rental market varies by neighborhood.

“Some markets are still affected,” he said. “I think East Boston for rentals is affected because people are looking for more space, just like they are in sales.

Other communities, like Malden and Somerville, “are more valuable than ever,” Deych said, with owners earning more rental income than at any time.

Mike Totten moves into his new room in Allston.  (Jesse Costa / WBUR)
Mike Totten moves into his new room in Allston. (Jesse Costa / WBUR)

Allston is one of those neighborhoods where apartments are increasingly difficult to find. After finally landing a spot there, Totten has some advice for other apartment hunters.

“Be persistent,” said the student. “If people don’t respond to you, keep talking to them over and over, keep trying to push him.”

And when you find a place you like, Totten says, jump on it immediately. Because things can go quickly in this market.

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