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Brownstone, Townhouse, or Rowhouse

These are typical in Boston and usually consist of 4 or 5 story adjoining sandstone or brick buildings that were originally built as single family homes, but were later converted into apartment and/or condominium buildings. They will often house one or two apartments per floor, and offer unique qualities such as decorative moldings, ornate fireplaces, bay windows, and sometimes exposed brick walls. Certain amenities can be hard to come by in brownstones such as parking, doorman/concierge, laundry in the unit, central A/C, etc. This is due to their age and size constraints. If you are seeking these amenities you may want to consider a high rise building. Brownstones and townhouses are prevalent in the Back Bay and South End neighborhoods.

Luxury Building

This term could be used to describe either a brownstone or a high rise building, but typically a luxury building in Boston would include modern amenities such as a renovated kitchen and bathroom(s), dishwasher, laundry in unit, central A/C, doorman and/or concierge services, garage parking, on-site amenities such as a swimming pool or fitness center, roof deck/balcony & more. Luxury buildings can be found all over the city.

High Rise Building

A high rise would be any building that is 6 or more stories in height, typically housing dozens or even hundreds of residential units. They are usually comprised of multiple, identical floor plans and may have certain amenities such as a doorman/concierge, swimming pool, fitness center, roof deck/balcony & more. Most high rises are luxury buildings, but not all luxury buildings are high rises. High rises can be found all over the city.


These types of units typically have a large, adaptable open space, high ceilings, and big windows. They may have a certain industrial appeal as well with features such as exposed brick, beams, ductwork, and pipes. They are often created out of old industrial buildings, factories, or warehouses, and may include one or more levels of living. Lofts can be found in areas such as the South End, Cambridge, and South Boston areas.


A studio is just a single room apartment. In a one bedroom apartment your living room and bedroom would be two distinct, separate rooms, but in a studio your living and sleeping space is the same space. The kitchen may be part of this room, or its own separate room. The bathroom would be a separate room as well. Studios are generally on the lowest end of the price scale.

Studio Alcove or Alcove

This is essentially a studio with the addition of an extra “nook” or “alcove” that may fit a bed, but it may lack a window, door, or closet that would define it as a true bedroom. Alcove studios will usually be priced somewhere between a studio and a small one bedroom.

Split Style Apartment

Splits are common in the Fenway/Kenmore, Brighton/Allston and Brookline areas. The term “split” refers to an apartment where the living room could be converted to an additional bedroom. A 1/2 split would be a one bedroom apartment (one bedroom, one living room, one kitchen & one bathroom) that could be converted into a 2 bedroom (two bedrooms, one kitchen & one bathroom). Splits are popular with roommates as they will usually be cheaper per person, however the downside is that you will lack a common area. There are also 2/3 and 3/4 splits as well.


A walk-up describes a building where there is no elevator. Most brownstones are walk-ups, and as you can imagine the higher the floor the cheaper the rent. Generally they would not exceed 5 stories.

Duplex or Triplex

A duplex would be a condo or apartment that has two floors, and a triplex would have three floors, usually connected by a staircase.

Ground Floor or Garden Level Unit

These terms are used interchangibly, but refer to a unit that is located on the lowest level of a building, but yet is still level with the outside grade. Although a lot of people may consider these to be basements, they can be quite charming and can offer full sized windows or a door with direct access to a private outdoor yard or patio.

Basement Unit

A basement unit will usually be partially or fully below grade, and may have small windows nearer to the ceiling. They are typically the least expensive apartment in the building.


An apartment is a residential unit that is for rent, located in a multi-unit building. Apartments can be located in an apartment building (one owner owns the entire building) or can be a condominium unit (meaning the owner owns just that unit in the building and rents it out).

Condominium or Condo

A condominium, or often referred to as a condo, is a unit located within a multi unit building. Each condo unit is individually deeded which means you only own your unit, not the whole building. A condo will have an association and a board of trustees that oversee the operation of the common areas and the building as a whole, and there is typically a monthly condo fee for this. Most property for sale in the downtown Boston areas will be condominiums.

Condo, HOA, or Association Fees

These terms are used interchangibly (HOA meaning “home owner’s association”). The association fee is a monthly fee that covers certain common operating expenses of a condo or co-op building, such as the master insurance policy, snow removal, cleaning of the common areas, and often certain utilities. Amenities (such as a pool, roof deck, fitness center, elevator, concierge, or valet services) and professional property management services would also contribute to the fee as well. Generally speaking, the nicer the building and the more amenities it has, the higher the fee.

Single Family

A single family is simply a free standing, detached house. It is not overseen by a condo assocation, and it is not broken down into units such as a 2 family, 3 family, or condo.

Owner Occupied

In the case of an apartment building it means that the owner of the apartment building lives in one of the units. In terms of a condominium it means that the person living in a particular unit is also the owner. The number of units in a condo building that are owner occupied can be important for mortgage lenders because it can show how stable and/or transient a condo building is.


A lease is a rental contract. It would typically outline the length of the term, the monthly price for the apartment, the owner and maintenance contacts, as well as the rules of the property. Most landlords in Boston use the standard form fixed lease (fixed meaning for a predetermined length of time, not month to month) that is put out by the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. Some owners may also add an addendum to the lease that outlines a few clauses that are specific to their property.

Security Deposit

A security deposit is collected by some landlords and is used to cover damages caused by the tenant(s). In Massachusetts a residential security cannot exceed one month’s rent, and will be held by the landlord in an interest bearing escrow account until the end of the lease term. The security deposit is then refunded at the end of the tenancy, less any damages caused by the tenant(s). The tenant(s) is/are also entitled to the interest on their deposit as well. Any owner who collects a security deposit from a tenant should provide them with the bank account information of where the money is being held, and should have the tenant(s) fill out an apartment condition statement - which is just a form that lists the condition of the apartment when the tenant(s) moved in, so that when they move out they are not held responsible for any damages to their unit that were there when they moved in. Security deposits are not the be considered rent, they are collect up front in addition to the rent.