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Mistakes Boston Apartment Hunters Make and How to Avoid Them

David Bates / July 7, 2017-10:10 am

Boston apartment hunters should have only two goals:

#1 – Get the best apartment available (based on their needs and wishes), and;

#2 – Get it for the least amount of money.

Easier said than done, right?

Yet, it’s a big city with a lot of great apartments – and there must be at least one landlord who is reasonable, who is not hell bent on getting maximum rent – plus first, last, security, a Realtor fee, and a pound of flesh. But how to know who that landlord is? After all, deals on Boston apartments seem to be about as hard to find as Hilary Clinton’s missing emails.

Sure, you could go to the local rental agent or two or three. But agents have limited access to inventory, a point that I will provide much more detail on later in this post.

Additionally, it should come as no surprise that any rental agent worth their salt considers it part of their job to convince starry-eyed, would-be tenants that they can’t and won’t do any better than the apartments they were shown.

And these agents are masters at working that sixth sense known as rental desperation, aren’t they? They see the look in the apartment hunter’s eyes, that quiver in their voice and before you can say, “boo” the hunters commit to an apartment that doesn’t quite have everything they wanted. It happens all the time.

Why? Why did they give up the quality of life fight?

Surely, many apartment hunters call it a day because they’re afraid to lose the one apartment that even slightly resembled what they wanted when their search began, the one the agent told them that if they don’t act right now someone else is thinking about taking the apartment.

Like any decision provoked by fear instead of opportunity, it’s a downright disturbing disappointment. Their apartment isn’t the end all, be all. But the hunters, they did what they had to do, they wrapped up.

Still, chances are, you might have felt you settled too early if…

– The unit or the building you took an apartment in didn’t have laundry.

-The apartment you secured had no parking spaces, and you need parking.

-The apartment you have isn’t near the T, and life is good if it is.

-The apartment you live in has poor placement in the building: no light, faces an alley, is below grade, etc.

-The apartment’s condition is less than what it should be. If your apartment is a dump, count this twice!

-You’ve ever said, “I’m only going to be here a year. I can survive it.”

-You’ve ever said, “This apartment is so expensive!”

If any of these happened, that gnawing, second-guess chatter, may still haunt you?

Do you chastise yourself, repeating when no one can hear: “I should have waited”?

I guess the question is, should you have persisted until you found that epic apartment, that brag-worthy one that made you feel “I’m home” every time you entered?

Frankly, you might have been a little hard on yourself.

More often than not, the solution wasn’t patience or even perseverance. Rather, the perfect APARTMENT SOLUTION WAS INVENTORY.

If you could pick from any apartment in your neighborhood, would you have picked the apartment you are living in now? Maybe, a lucky few would stay in their current domicile, but upon seeing a better apartment or a better apartment for the money, most would trade.

But in the age of Google and Amazon, does a comprehensive list of available Boston apartments exist?

Enter Demetrios Salpoglou, 47, a man who has thousands of more apartments available for rent than syllables in his name.

In my double-decade journey through Boston real estate, and my seven-year ride of writing about trends in that market, DS is the most committed rental brokerage owner I have run across.

And he has inventory… sh*tloads of it!

One time, I asked DS how many available rental listings he had. A few taps of his cell phone later, he answered: “4,913 and they will all be vacant between now and September first.

How many rental folks treat the apartment availability number like a stock-market ticker tape, keeping it as real-time as possible? We don’t need multiple choice options for that answer, folks.

 NOT EVEN ONE of those 4,913 upcoming apartment vacancies was listed on MLS or REALTOR.com, according to Demetrios,

“I’ve never needed, I never will need MLS,” declared DS, the man whose four rental brokerages – Jacob Realty, NextGen Realty, Boardwalk Properties, and Douglas Paul Real Estate – operate a private apartment database with nearly twice as many listings as were in MLS at the time.

Truth be told, a lot of Demetrios’s listings are not exclusive listings, the kind of listing required by MLS, where the listing company is the only company allowed to advertise the apartment.

The lack of exclusivity, of course, means that another company or companies might have the same listing as that of DS’s company. So, what? Apartment hunting is like that game where someone tries to hide a marble under one of three overturned cups. Only, when you use a company that has all the listings, you get to turn over all the cups before choosing which one the marble is under.

Operating under one listing roof, Jacob Realty, NextGen Realty, Boardwalk Properties, and Douglas Paul Real Estate have copious quantities of apartments in every Hub neighborhood – apartments of every price range, shape, size, and finish level. This became abundantly clear the time I asked DS a question about the luxury rental market, and his answer started with, “Right now, we have 334 luxury buildings in our database with 72 of them paying the full fee.”

In a world starved for inventory, how did one company get so many freaking apartment listings? I had to know.

DS’s firm showed up in Boston in 2002, about the same time as a man named Brady. And Demetrios went about collecting apartment listings with about the same intensity as Brady went about collecting Super Bowl trophies.

When he got listings, he promoted them on dozens of customized niche websites. At the time, the Internet was a new medium for the Hub real estate market, but it didn’t take long for it to become apparent that Boston’s apartment renting game had changed.

For example, DS’s offices are in Back Bay and Allston. So, he didn’t have an office in South Boston. Yet, even without an office, he easily accumulated and rented tons of South Boston apartments.

How?

Because he owned domains like SouthBostonApartments.com and SouthBostonPads.com, sites that often ranked #1 on the most used search engine keywords, like “South Boston Apartments.”

So, when South Boston’s neighborhood-loyal property owners saw his internet dominance, they eagerly gave him their listings. Then, his company rented the listings, and the relationship went to another level.

Tony Madan, who owns about 150 rentals in Cambridge and Somerville, told me a similar story. According to Madan, even though Demetrios doesn’t have an office in either Cambridge or Somerville, for more than 10 years, DS’s brokerages fill about 50% of Madan’s vacancies every year. “His technology presence is impressive,” says Madan. “We’ve worked with his company over a decade and watched him grow into a formidable force in the Boston market.”

Year after year, Demetrios added domain after domain, website after website, neighborhood after neighborhood. A few of his niche websites, like BostonParkingSpaces.com and BostonSnowRemoval.com, attracted landlords and helped his apartment listing database grow so big it was as if Shaquille O’Neal had fathered it.

His websites scored high in Google’s organic search results, but he also paid to promote them, confiding to me in almost a whisper once that he spent $38,000 on Google one month.

Another time, over lunch, he revealed: “I look at the traffic daily, and we had 6,900 visitors this morning, so that would be over a 24-hour period.”

Of course, as time went on, Demetrios added 74 Facebook pages and a host of other social media platforms to promote his larger-than-Boston-life apartment-listing database.

Today, his Greater Boston landlord and apartment collection have no local rival. His four brokerages, 150 rental agents, and paid staff check-in with more than 16,000 area landlords about the availability of more than 156,000 Greater Boston apartments.

Matt O’Hara, who worked with the database for 10 years before starting his own firm, told me that the massive number of listings allows agents to show Boston apartment hunters “the most alternatives in the most number of locations.” Frankly, folks, you can never be too rich, too thin, or choose the best from too many apartments in the location you want to live.

So, if you paid a little more for your apartment than you wanted or got a little less apartment in terms of finishes, amenities, or location than you had hoped for, DON’T BLAME YOUR AGENT.

If they’re like most Boston real estate agents, they do sales and treat rentals as kind of a second job. For the most part, these agents are limited to what’s on MLS. It’s not their fault that they don’t have access to more than 16,000 landlords and more than 156,000 apartments. Just as it’s not their fault that the agents at Jacob, Boardwalk, NextGen, and Douglas Paul, have access to both the 156,000 listing database as well as the MLS database.

There are, of course, specialized rental agencies in the Hub. But as their subterranean locations and less than impressive finishes often hint, they are usually not a landlord’s first choice for representation, especially higher end landlords. So, their apartment selection and quality suffers.

Finally, there are national websites, with about as much true understanding of Boston neighborhoods as I have about manipulating astrophysics equations.

Can a gargantuan sized inventory lead to more satisfied clients?

Was David Ortiz clutch? Hell, yeah!

In 2012, Demetrios estimates that his agents helped as many as 10,000 Greater Boston apartment hunters secure residences. His sites proudly connect to Google reviews. Jacob Realty has 4.9 stars out of five, and NextGen has 4.6.

In 2017, he wants to help you find the perfect place.

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