Boston apartments for rent searchers get new info
Mar 2011 13

Zillow, the online real estate search company, has launched a new service for those looking to rent an apartment.

“Rent Zestimates”, computed using a proprietary algorithm that analyzes public record information, as well as information from hundreds of thousands of rental listings on Zillow, are “starting points” in determining an apartment’s fair rent price. Zillow says it is tracking over 90 million apartments for rent.

If you’re on a website such as craigslist, looking for an apartment, you can take down the address and then plug it into the Zillow search box. if there’s a match, you’ll see the rental listing along with an estimate of what it should rent for, vs. what it’s being offered at.

So, I gave it a whirl.

I was skeptical going in, I’m even more skeptical now.

I started with three sample rental listings. One was at 1 Charles Street #702. The second was at 660 Washington Street (Archstone Boston Common) and the third was 100 Belvedere Street. I chose at random.

One Charles was estimated at $2,662. Actual is $3,850.
100 Belvedere was estimated at $2,030. Actual is $4,000.
And, Archstone Boston Common was estimated at $1,657. Actual is $2,688.

Which means two things:

1) Zillow needs to work on its algorithm.
2) Zillow is useless at estimating apartment prices.

** Yes, the prices above are asking prices for apartments. However, I’ve never known apartments to be rented at more than $200 less than asking price. I’d say 95% of the time, landlords get the prices they are looking for. Infrequently, they will leave their apartments empty instead of renting to someone offering less.

You might have more luck working with a landlord in a small building or someone renting an individual unit. They are more likely willing to work with a tenant who can offer something else in return for lower rent – say, being trustworthy or willing to sign a long-term lease.

In Boston, the vacancy rate has always been low. While you might have some luck in the big-big apartment buildings around town that have sprouted up, you are still fighting an uphill battle, especially if you’re looking during high-rental season, meaning any month except January and February.

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