Boston, Massachusetts, USA cityscape over North End.

Boston offers endless job and educational opportunities, but the high housing costs may be hard to wrap your head around. (Getty Images)

Boston University. Boston College. University of Massachusetts—Boston. Northeastern University. Not to mention Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This is only a snippet of the more than 60 colleges and universities Google delivers in a search for higher-education institutions within Boston's metropolitan area.

Then, there are health care facilities – 15 of them in Boston proper alone.

With their renown, the educational and medical industries thriving in Massachusetts's capital, among other enterprises, draw a horde of professionals, many from abroad. By 2030, Boston’s mayoral office predicts that more than 700,000 people will reside in the city.

What is perhaps even more astounding is that these city dwellers will occupy a land area of less than 50 square miles, living in the nation’s second-smallest city, geography-wise, after San Francisco, according to a 2018 report by the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]

To bring matters to an even more miniscule scale, nearly half of Boston’s parcels are for public and institutional use. In a historic, densely mapped-out city, housing carves out less than 40% of the tracts.

To put that in perspective, over 88% of San Francisco’s real estate carries residential designation, according to the city’s appraiser.

The combination of a limited housing stock and a flourishing job market boosts the cost of living in Boston. In 2018, the Boston Planning and Development Agency ranked the metro area the fourth least affordable in the country behind San Francisco, Seattle and New York for cost of living.

Here's what you can expect to pay while living in Boston:

  • $597,000 is the median home value in Boston, according to Zillow.
  • $2,400 is the median monthly payment for a mortgage, property taxes and utility bills in the city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • $2,450 is the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment, according to Zumper.
  • $9,000 may be what you have to pay in up-front costs for an apartment, including the application fee, security deposit and broker's fee.
  • $600 per month is what parking costs in some downtown areas of the city.
  • 6.25% is the sales tax in Boston, lower than many other large cities.

The True Cost of Living in Boston

Resting on the 27th spot in U.S. News’ Best Places to Live rankings for 2019, Boston charms with its New England allure, fostered by a long history that has left its mark on anything from lifestyle to the city’s real estate. At the same time, the city is a hub for innovation that attracts highly educated, highly paid professionals.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, the median household income in Boston, amounts to a little under $72,000, a number greater than the nation’s median.

Yet, “higher income levels in the Boston metropolitan area are still not nearly enough to offset the region’s extremely high housing prices,” the city’s Planning and Development Agency states in its 2018 report on general statistics for the area.

The median home value in the city of Boston, according to Zillow, is nearly $597,000 as of the end of October 2019, and is expected to inch up by 2.3% in 2020. At the same time, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that homeowners pay a median of nearly $2,400 per month in mortgage outlays and other costs such as property taxes and utility bills within the city of Boston. These financial obligations total $28,800 a year, which is 40% of the median household income.

The renter market offers no shelter away from Boston’s extortionate housing. As of July 2019, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment stood at $2,450 per month, according to a report by rental information company Zumper. A two-bedroom apartment commanded about $400 more.

[See: The Best Places to Live in the U.S. for Young Professionals.]

Home Prices in Boston

“The Boston market is historically a very stable market,” says Ricardo Rodriguez, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Boston. “We did see it during the last recession in which prices remained stable for years.”

Because a sizable swath of Boston bears historical landmark or protective designations, new construction has largely remained sluggish throughout the years, propping values up.

“There's a limited new housing stock, which has caused a strong seller's market to run its course over the last five or seven years,” says Nick Warren, founder and CEO of Warren Residential with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Boston.

This year, however, parts of Boston’s residential real estate have slipped into what Warren calls “a transition into a neutral market.” In some neighborhoods, inventory is staying on the market for longer than just a couple of weeks and prices are cooling off from double-digit annual gains.

While condos dominate the housing market in the city, some of the most desirable and, thus, costly communities feature rows of classic brownstones. Some of those neighborhoods – where home values often exceed $1 million – are South End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay, Warren says.

A new-construction, high-end neighborhood on the rise is the Seaport District in south Boston, where average prices run about $3 million, Rodriguez says. The area flaunts commercial buildings, office spaces and residences close together, catering to Bostonians’ proclivity for a walkable lifestyle.

“That is where we are right now seeing some of the highest price points in terms of sales and in a price per square foot in the city,” Rodriguez says.

On the other end of the price spectrum lies Dorchester, Boston’s largest neighborhood, where condos sold for an average of $510,000 in the third quarter of 2019, according to a report put together by Warren Residential.

[Read: First-Time Homebuyer? Here's How to Buy Your First Home]

Affording a Home in Boston

“Boston is a very small city geographically, but it's rich in terms of culture and lifestyle,” Rodriguez says. “Yet, there are very striking cultural differences between neighborhoods that are next to each other. So, I think that is important for people to understand.”

Rodriguez advises homebuyers to reflect on the lifestyle they yearn for alongside assembling a budget. Because prices may dramatically differ in disparate city communities as well as in the surrounding towns, those looking to purchase should have a methodical approach rather than “jumping into something in a more random matter,” Rodriguez says.

Renting in Boston, a city crawling with students seeking temporary housing, comes with its own caveats. Warren recommends hiring a broker or a real estate agent who can introduce renters to landlords who eschew advertising online.

“There are really good landlords who don't allow people to come directly to them,” Warren says. “If someone's trying to shop on their own, they're missing a lot of the inventory if they're not working with a pretty good real estate agent.”

Most renter stock changes hands on Sept. 1, but Warren suggests inking a deal earlier (a good time to start looking is June) in order to avoid the heightened demand at the start of each fall semester.

Aside from being quite competitive, securing a lease can also be expensive. To consider and vet a renter, a landlord would often request a fee worth one month's rent. Once approved, a tenant needs to pay a security deposit composed of the first and last month of rent as well as a broker’s fee, which equates a month of rent. At the end, the upfront costs of renting a median-priced, one-bedroom unit can reach up to $9,000.

Renters with rickety credit scores – especially if they are below 680, Warren says – may need guarantors as well.

Other Costs of Living

Because of its limited land mass – which contributes to the city’s walkability – Boston may slim the wallets of car owners. Parking spots are few and at a premium.

“One of the things a lot of people don't realize is how expensive parking can be in Boston,” Warren says, adding that in some downtown areas it can fetch up to $600 per month.

That is why, Warren says, Boston transplants tend to discard their vehicles for the city’s public transportation.

According to tax information firm Avalara, Boston has a sales tax of 6.25%, levied by the state. The rate is lower than in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New Orleans.


The 25 Best Places to Find a Job in the U.S. in 2019

Looking for a new work-related adventure?

Top view of multiracial young creative people in modern office. Group of young business people are working together with laptop, tablet, smart phone, notebook. Successful hipster team in coworking. Freelancers.

(Getty Images)

When you’re considering moving to a new place, how you plan to make money matters a lot. A flourishing job market can easily mean the difference between making it and flaming out in a new town. This is why in the overall ranking of the Best Places to Live, each metro area’s job market – comprised of its unemployment rate and median salary – accounted for 20% of the final score. Read on for the 25 strongest job markets in our ranking of the 125 most populous places in the U.S.

25. Santa Barbara, California

25. Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara, California, USA

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 73
Metro Population: 442,996
Median Home Price: $463,750
Median Annual Salary: $54,320
Unemployment Rate: 3.9%

Santa Barbara’s unemployment rate matches the national average at 3.9%. Residents are likely to find employment in the tourism industry, education and local government. One of the area’s top employers is the University of California—Santa Barbara.

Learn more about Santa Barbara.

24. Worcester, Massachusetts

24. Worcester, Massachusetts

Worcester, Massachusetts, USA Skyline at rush hour.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 62
Metro Population: 934,923
Median Home Price: $249,275
Median Annual Salary: $53,110
Unemployment Rate: 3.7%

Located in central Massachusetts, Worcester residents benefit from an unemployment rate below the national average at 3.7%. With a median annual salary of $53,110, Worcester residents receive more than the national average, which is $50,620.

Learn more about Worcester.

23. Baltimore

23. Baltimore

The sunset reflects off the windows of the Baltimore city skyline at dusk, Maryland. This view was taken from Federal Hill Park overlooking the Inner Harbor. (The sunset reflects off the windows of the Baltimore city skyline at dusk, Maryland. This vi

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 100
Metro Population: 2,790,050
Median Home Price: $248,833
Median Annual Salary: $56,400
Unemployment Rate: 4.2%

Many of Baltimore’s biggest employers are in the health care industry, from Johns Hopkins University and the associated Johns Hopkins Health System to MedStar Health and the University of Maryland Medical System. Baltimore’s unemployment rate, however, is high at 4.2%.

Learn more about Baltimore.

22. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

22. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Winter sunrise by Lake Michigan. Milwaukee Art Museum reflected in the ice.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 61
Metro Population: 1,575,101
Median Home Price: $207,400
Median Annual Salary: $50,070
Unemployment Rate: 3.1%

Milwaukee’s median annual salary, at $50,070, is just $550 below the national average of $50,620. While income sticks close to national numbers, this Wisconsin metro area has an unemployment rate of 3.1%, which is well below the national average of 3.9%.

Learn more about Milwaukee.

20. Portland, Oregon (tie)

20. Portland, Oregon (tie)

Portland, Oregon

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 8
Metro Population: 2,382,037
Median Home Price: $375,425
Median Annual Salary: $55,330
Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

A flourishing tech industry isn’t the only thing keeping Portland’s median annual salary high and its unemployment rate below the national average. Manufacturing, athletic and outdoor apparel and health care companies all contribute to the local economy.

Learn more about Portland.

20. Sacramento, California (tie)

20. Sacramento, California (tie)

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 82
Metro Population: 2,268,005
Median Home Price: $389,858
Median Annual Salary: $55,010
Unemployment Rate: 3.7%

Tied at the No. 20 spot with Portland, Sacramento has a median annual salary of $55,010. The capital of California also has an unemployment rate of 3.7%, slightly below the national average of 3.9%.

Learn more about Sacramento.

19. Huntsville, Alabama

19. Huntsville, Alabama

One of the 4 corners of Huntsville's town square.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 11
Metro Population: 444,908
Median Home Price: $167,300
Median Annual Salary: $53,600
Unemployment Rate: 3.5%

Home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville attracts aerospace engineers not just for the NASA job opportunities, but also for the aerospace jobs from companies that are based in the area as a result of the government entity’s location.

Learn more about Huntsville.

18. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

18. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Photo taken in Raleigh, United States

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 10
Metro Population: 1,824,266
Median Home Price: $249,294
Median Annual Salary: $53,788
Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

Ranking No. 10 on the overall Best Places to Live list, the Raleigh and Durham metro area is best known for the major universities located in the area – Duke University, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. The ample college-related job opportunities contribute to a low unemployment rate of 3.4%.

Learn more about Raleigh and Durham.

17. Portland, Maine

17. Portland, Maine

Aerial panorama of Portland, Maine at dusk

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 23
Metro Population: 525,776
Median Home Price: $223,367
Median Annual Salary: $48,970
Unemployment Rate: 2.6%

Portland’s job market thrives on small businesses, ranging from retail to manufacturing. But the high success rate of small businesses doesn’t keep larger companies from calling the area home, such as L.L. Bean, which is based in Freeport, Maine.

Learn more about Portland.

16. Hartford, Connecticut

16. Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford Connecticut skyline reflection along the banks of the Connecticut River. Hartford is the capital of the U.S. state of Connecticut. Hartford is known for its attractive architectural styles and being the Insurance capital of the United States.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 47
Metro Population: 1,213,123
Median Home Price: $215,542
Median Annual Salary: $60,040
Unemployment Rate: 4.2%

The Hartford metro area has an above-average unemployment rate at 4.2%. But as a hub for the insurance industry and other businesses, residents earn a median annual salary of $60,040, nearly $10,000 above the national average.

Learn more about Hartford.

15. Austin, Texas

15. Austin, Texas

Early foggy morning on Ladybird Lake in Austin, Texas.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 1
Metro Population: 2,000,590
Median Home Price: $292,500
Median Annual Salary: $51,840
Unemployment Rate: 2.9%

While Austin attracts a wide variety of businesses, with government and education being major employers in the area, it draws a lot of tech companies as well. A less expensive place to set up shop than Silicon Valley, Austin is now considered a major tech hub.

Learn more about Austin.

14. Des Moines, Iowa

14. Des Moines, Iowa

Sunset over the Iowa capitol in Des Moines

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 5
Metro Population: 623,113
Median Home Price: $178,942
Median Annual Salary: $50,600
Unemployment Rate: 2.4%

While the Des Moines area’s median salary is slightly below the national average of $50,620, the cost of living is far lower, as the typical resident uses just 20.11% of his or her household income on living expenses. The low cost of living is just one factor bringing tech companies and startups to the metro area.

Learn more about Des Moines.

13. San Diego

13. San Diego

San Diego, California cityscape at the Gaslamp Quarter.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 36
Metro Population: 3,283,665
Median Home Price: $555,325
Median Annual Salary: $56,410
Unemployment Rate: 3.3%

San Diego attracts residents with its ideal weather and helps them stay with a number of diverse job opportunities. San Diego is home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet and has a large number of military personnel as a result, not to mention opportunities in technology, tourism and research stemming from the area’s universities.

Learn more about San Diego.

12. Santa Rosa, California

12. Santa Rosa, California

Golden hour sunset in Santa Rosa, California over brush along Highway 12.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 74
Metro Population: 500,943
Median Home Price: $629,917
Median Annual Salary: $53,890
Unemployment Rate: 2.7%

In the heart of California wine country, Santa Rosa sees a high number of its residents working on farms and at wineries and brewpubs, and a significant portion holding jobs in tourism. Residents benefit from a low unemployment rate of just 2.7%.

Learn more about Santa Rosa.

11. Manchester, New Hampshire

11. Manchester, New Hampshire

Manchester is the largest city in the state of New Hampshire and the largest city in northern New England. Manchester is known for its industrial heritage, riverside mills, affordability, and arts & cultural destination.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 43
Metro Population: 406,371
Median Home Price: $234,097
Median Annual Salary: $52,640
Unemployment Rate: 2.5%

With an extremely low unemployment rate of 2.7%, Manchester residents work in a variety of industries, from technology and communications to financial services, health care and manufacturing. At $52,640, the median annual salary is slightly higher than the national average.

Learn more about Manchester.

10. New York City

10. New York City

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 90
Metro Population: 21,139,370
Median Home Price: $386,862
Median Annual Salary: $63,079
Unemployment Rate: 4%

Naturally, the Big Apple makes the list, with a number of domestic and international businesses calling the area home. New York’s major industries range from finance and fashion to shipping and manufacturing, and the city is considered the financial and publishing capital of the U.S.

Learn more about New York.

9. Madison, Wisconsin

9. Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol building in a street scene in Madison, Wisconsin

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 12
Metro Population: 640,072
Median Home Price: $247,967
Median Annual Salary: $52,190
Unemployment Rate: 2.2%

Along with its strong health care industry, Madison has a growing biotechnology market and attracts startups with its low cost of living and proximity to well-connected corporations like health care software company Epic Systems.

Learn more about Madison.

8. Denver

8. Denver

Drone photograph of Denver through Union Station sign

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 2
Metro Population: 2,798,684
Median Home Price: $393,842
Median Annual Salary: $57,400
Unemployment Rate: 3%

Educational institutions such as the University of Colorado and the University of Denver create a substantial amount of research roles in the area. Strong business in aerospace, defense and tourism also help fuel Denver’s strong job market.

Learn more about Denver.

7. Seattle

7. Seattle

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 9
Metro Population: 3,735,216
Median Home Price: $442,333
Median Annual Salary: $63,120
Unemployment Rate: 3.9%

Seattle’s job market has an enviable reputation, with the likes of Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft calling the area home, and major offices for corporations like Google offering highly desired job opportunities as well. The median annual salary is high at $63,120.

Learn more about Seattle.

6. Minneapolis-St. Paul

6. Minneapolis-St. Paul

Minneapolis aerial with Downtown Minneapolis skyline in the background and Loring Park with Loring Pond in the foreground, during early autumn.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 3,526,149
Median Home Price: $237,367
Median Annual Salary: $56,030
Unemployment Rate: 2.7%

Minneapolis boasts strong life science, biotechnology and health-tech industries, as well as familiar corporations headquartered in the area, including Target, Best Buy and General Mills. The median annual salary, at $56,030, is above the national average of $50,620.

Learn more about Minneapolis-St. Paul.

5. Honolulu

5. Honolulu

Photo Taken In Honolulu, United States

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 60
Metro Population: 990,060
Median Home Price: $581,658
Median Annual Salary: $54,030
Unemployment Rate: 2.1%

With active U.S. Army and Air Force bases on Oahu, Honolulu has a sizable percentage of residents in the defense industry, though it’s no surprise tourism is the island’s leading industry. But the individual companies employing the most Honolulu residents are actually in the health care industry. Honolulu has the lowest unemployment rate of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S.

Learn more about Honolulu.

4. Boston

4. Boston

Iconic Old State House, Boston, Massachusetts, America

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 27
Metro Population: 4,771,936
Median Home Price: $423,450
Median Annual Salary: $65,420
Unemployment Rate: 3.1%

With dozens of colleges and universities in the metro area, including Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston has guaranteed extensive opportunities in the education and research fields and a young workforce to take advantage of them.

Learn more about Boston.

3. Washington, D.C.

3. Washington, D.C.

Washington DC city view at a orange sunset, including Washington Monument from Capitol building

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 19
Metro Population: 6,090,196
Median Home Price: $376,767
Median Annual Salary: $69,210
Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

The District of Columbia offers a significant amount of work in the public sector and with government contractors, but it also has a steadily growing number of private-sector companies headquartered in the area, including Marriott International and Mars Inc. in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, respectively.

Learn more about Washington.

2. San Francisco

2. San Francisco

Each busy day looks exactly the same, but people around are always different. Just take a moment to slow down.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 7
Metro Population: 4,641,820
Median Home Price: $768,517
Median Annual Salary: $69,700
Unemployment Rate: 2.7%

In the No. 2 spot on the list is San Francisco, where residents enjoy a strong job market that thrives in tourism, technology, finance and business. San Francisco residents also enjoy a high median annual salary of nearly $70,000.

Learn more about San Francisco.

1. San Jose, California

1. San Jose, California

San Jose is the economic, cultural and political center of Silicon Valley, and the largest city in Northern California.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 14
Metro Population: 1,969,897
Median Home Price: $1,080,017
Median Annual Salary: $77,180
Unemployment Rate: 2.6%

The capital of Silicon Valley continues to reign supreme, edging out its neighbor, San Francisco, for the top spot on the list. San Jose has the highest median salary out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S., combined with a below-average unemployment rate.

Learn more about San Jose.

The Best Places to Find a Job in the U.S. are:

The Best Places to Find a Job in the U.S. are:

USA, Florida, Stuart, Aerial view of suburbs

(Getty Images)

  • San Jose, California.
  • San Francisco.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Boston.
  • Honolulu.
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul.
  • Seattle.
  • Denver.
  • Madison, Wisconsin.
  • New York City.
  • Manchester, New Hampshire.
  • Santa Rosa, California.
  • San Diego.
  • Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Austin, Texas.
  • Hartford, Connecticut.
  • Portland, Maine.
  • Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.
  • Huntsville, Alabama.
  • Sacramento, California.
  • Portland, Oregon.
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
  • Baltimore.
  • Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • Santa Barbara, California.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, home prices, existing home sales, pending home sales, new home sales, renting, Boston


Dima Williams is a reporter and editor who covers the residential real estate industry with an emphasis on economics, policy as well as luxury. As a managing editor for a national real estate website and magazine, Williams extensively collaborated with top producing agents across the country to develop expert opinion pieces and advice articles. Connect with Williams on LinkedIn.

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