Location, Location, Location: Finding Your Boulder Home

1418651_45118022So you’re new to Boulder.  Or maybe you’re just needing a cheaper place, somewhere that allows pets, or new roommates.  Let’s say you’re on a budget.   Congratulations, you’re in the wrong town!  In all seriousness though, Boulder (and the whole Boulder area) is pretty expensive .  As you may likely have discovered already, It can be difficult to find anything bigger than a shoe-box for a reasonable price, especially if you’re relying on part-time work or student loans.  How do you go about finding somewhere new to live?  The answer to this is somewhat complex, and there are actually more options than you may think.  I’ll try to do them justice, but feel free to ask me for clarification on any of these points.

Ultimately, where you can live depends on what you really need.  Everyone wants a lot of space, reasonably low rent, and to be close to school.  Unfortunately, that will probably not happen.  However, you can have any two of these things; you just have to decide which two of the three are most important.


So let’s start with the first two.  Let’s say that you want somewhere that has lots of space and low rent.  You’re most likely looking at living outside of Boulder proper, and you have a few different options.

  1. Living in Longmont/Niwot/Gunbarrel: This will be one of your cheapest options, but that comes at a price.  Many people who work in Boulder live in Longmont, and therefore must make the commute every day.  The town is northeast of Boulder, and since Naropa’s Paramita campus is in northeast Boulder, the actual distance isn’t that far.  However, the Diagonal Highway (which is the main road into Boulder from Longmont) is always clogged during rush hour, and during the winter it gets very slippery.  The road itself is actually inclined, but doesn’t seem like it.  Consequently, people tend to drive down it at unreasonably high speeds and get into car accidents when it snows.  Be prepared to make the 30-60 minute commute if you choose this option.   There are regular buses, but that will tip your commute time over the 1-hour mark.  You can find a one bedroom apartment with reasonable square-footage for anywhere from $600 to $900 pretty easily, particularly if you have the time to shop around.  If you don’t mind living a little way outside of the town center, you may even find a duplex or a house with a yard.  The town itself has less character than some of its neighbors, but is not a bad place to live by national standards, and the town center is actually quite lively.  Alternatively, you may be able to find a place in Gunbarrel (which is technically part of Boulder) or Niwot.  They’re closer to Boulder along the Diagonal Highway, and cheaper than Boulder, but will likely be more expensive than Longmont.
  2. Living in Lafayette/Louisville/Superior/Broomfield:  These four towns are pretty typical towns, all located southeast of Boulder.  They’re a good option for anyone who has a regular need to go to Denver, and They’re all reasonably close to US-36, which goes straight into Boulder.  Lafayette and Louisville can both be reached easily by taking one of several main Boulder roads east out of town, and the commute is usually between 25 and 45 minutes.  These towns also have regular buses, which also usually take an hour or more to get into Boulder.  Louisville will be a bit more expensive than Lafayette, which is often more expensive than Superior and Broomfield.  Louisville is sort of like a mini-Boulder; it’s a cute, friendly little town.  Lafayette has a bit less character, but it’s  quickly developing its own personality (Lafayette is also the town that I live in right now).  Broomfield and superior are a bit more cookie-cutter, with many chain-stores and less personality, but are good options for families as there seems to be larger housing available there for less money.  You can usually find 1 bedroom apartments in Louisville and Lafayette for $700-$1100 per month if you look around.  For whatever reason, it seems to be harder to find cheap 1 bedroom apartments in Superior and Broomfield, but the 2 bedroom apartments are often only about $800-$1100 if you look around.
  3. Living in Nederland/Lyons:  These two cities are up in the mountains (Nederland is at about 8200 ft., and while Lyons is actually a bit lower than Boulder, the road to Boulder from Lyons is a bit more winding).  Lyons is about 25 minutes from Boulder on a clear, dry day without traffic, but can be significantly more if it’s snowing.  Nederland is about a 40 minute drive up the canyon from Boulder, which can be impassible on particularly snowy days.  There are regular buses to and from Nederland, and having lived in Nederland without a car, I can vouch for this method of transportation.  However, there will be days when it’s simply not possible to get to Boulder because of the snow.  That being said, both towns are very fun places to be–they’re known for their love of good beer and local music, and both host at least one festival per year.  They’re also very beautiful places to live.  Nederland particularly is surrounded by national forest, and the drive up is breathtaking.  Since the towns are smaller, they have less housing available, but they’re great places to live if you like small towns.  They can be great options if you want to rent a house instead of an apartment or a duplex, and both cities have cabins that come up for rent frequently.   Lyons also has fairly inexpensive 1 bedroom apartments, with $550-$750 fairly common.


If you’re hoping to stay in Boulder proper, then you’ll have to forego either that spacious home you had hoped for, or some extra cash.  Here are your options if you want to live close to school for cheap.

  1. Live in South Boulder: South Boulder is the one place in Boulder that reliably has (comparatively) inexpensive apartments available.  They will not be big (or even medium-sized usually), but you can find clean, fairly well-maintained 1 bedroom apartments for about $700-$900, or 2-bedroom apartments for about $850-$1100.  The problem with Boulder housing is that much of it is concentrated around the University of Colorado, including the south Boulder ones, so this housing will have very little character. The area around Table Mesa Drive between Foothills Parkway and Broadway seems to be the best place to look.  Expect to see the same drab light brown carpet, white walls, and tiny kitchens everywhere, and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re likely to find a place with a yard.  However, the drive time is only about 15-30 minutes usually, and there are buses that run every 10 minutes during rush hour, and every 15-20 minutes during most of the day, which will take longer but are very reliable.  Chances are that if the buses stop running because of the snow, the school (and most businesses) won’t be open anyway.  If these prices are still a bit high, consider option 2.
  2. Find roommate(s): Most people in Boulder seem to have roommates, and I consider this to be the only truly “budget” option for Boulder housing.  It’s the only way around the ridiculous rental rates.  Boulder has an annoying law that allows only 3 or fewer unrelated people to live together in one residence, so you can’t hope for a 5 bedroom house with 8 inhabitants.  The cheapest way to do it is to find a reasonable 2 bedroom apartment and find a couple to share the other bedroom (or if you’re part of a couple, find a single person to fill the other bedroom).  It’s seems pretty standard here to split rent based on the number of people, rather than the number of bedrooms.  If a couple is sharing a room, they may pay a bit less per person than you are, but it should be split fairly evenly.  (For example, I lived in an $800 per month, two bedroom apartment for two years with a couple.  I paid $300 per month, and each of them paid $250).  If you can afford a bit more, finding only one roommate is an option.   If you have roommates, the locations in Boulder that you can live open up significantly.  You can find a 3 bedroom house in South Boulder (with a yard) for about $2200 with a little hunting, which brings the per-person total down to just under $700.  There are also apartments and condos west of Broadway in Central Boulder that have 3 bedrooms for about $1500-$2000, as well as some apartments and condos right next to Naropa’s Paramita campus in North Boulder for about the same price.  Most of these places will want at least 6 month leases, and many want 12 month leases, so make sure you can live with your roommates for a year before signing on the dotted line.
  3. Wait a *really* long time: good deals do come up from time to time.  I knew someone living in a two bedroom condo right next to school that cost a mere $600 per month, and it allowed pets.  I’ve also seen a small cabin in West Boulder, right against the mountains, come up for rent for about $500 per month.  If you’ve been living in Boulder already, you’ll know that a lot of rentals get passed on by word-of-mouth.  Keep your ears open, and ask everyone you know if they know of anyone who is moving out.  The best times to look are usually around February (which is when people start signing advanced leases for fall) and May (which is when the University of Colorado students leave).  Strangely enough, there also tend to be places opening up in December, as students come to the ends of their 6 month leases and decide they don’t like where they are living, or have decided to leave school.  Take these apartments with a bit of healthy skepticism though.  Nobody moves in December in Boulder (snow!) unless they have to for some reason, or they are really unhappy with the place.


Finally, if you’re in the fortunate position of not having to worry about the cost, you’re in luck, because Boulder was designed with you in mind.  Here’s how to find somewhere spacious and close to school:

  1. Rent a House: The sky really is the limit in terms of housing here.  Boulder caters to people with sufficient income, and the properties here range from simple to palatial.  You can easily find a house for about $2500-$3500, and almost all of the houses in Boulder have at least a little unique charm.  If you look into the West Pearl, Mapleton, or Chautauqua areas, you’re sure to find more expensive but beautiful houses with charm and old-world details, many of which are old Victorians.  Houses just outside of Boulder are likely to have decent lot sizes, and it’s not uncommon to find houses with ten or more acres of land from time to time.  In North Boulder, the housing is actually less expensive than many parts of Boulder, and all you really have to worry about is finding one that you like that is also available.  If you’re into mountain living, there are many gorgeous new homes with ample amenities nestled into the rocky cliff faces that overlook the beautiful Boulder valley.
  2. Rent a Condo: Boulder has a lot of condos, many of which are very upscale homes in desirable locations.  The Pearl Street area has new condos that are close to everything, including some of Boulder’s best dining and recreation.  Some of them have shared gardens or other outdoor common areas, and most of the nicer ones have balconies.  If you are willing to pay for the view, some condos face the flatirons, which are a striking and incredible sight to wake up to.  Perhaps best of all, these condos cost enough to keep most obnoxious undergraduate party-goers away, so you will likely enjoy relative quiet.
  3. Buy a Home: Boulder’s real estate market has always been high.  Even in the 2008 housing market crash, most Boulder properties seem to have retained good value, and the property value just keeps going up.  This is because Boulder’s city limits are intentionally kept from expanding so as to preserve the natural beauty of the area.  Without the option to expand, and with the money that tends to accumulate in this city, residents pay a high premium for the privilege of living here.  There are many real-estate agents in the area who can provide more detailed information about buying a home here, and this may be a good option if you see yourself living in Boulder long-term.

Finding a home in the Boulder area can be a bit of a challenge.  But with a little patience and prioritizing, you can find somewhere comfortable that meets your needs.  If you have any specific questions about anything I’ve mentioned (or left out), feel free to leave a comment below, or send me a message!