It's like winning the lottery... almost.
May 9, 2013 7:57 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I have just been offered a large amount of money to leave our NYC apartment. Our plan is to pull up stakes and move to my home state. We have to make a decision by tomorrow. However, I've also just had a hinky breast mammogram/sonogram and am scheduled for a biopsy next week. Am I making a major mistake in quitting my job, going on COBRA, and moving cross country when I've got a potential health issue on the line?

I moved to NYC in early 2001 and met my partner in 2004. I have a solid, loving relationship, and a good job with a well-known NGO. However, a series of health issues spanning 2008-2010 left me wanting to move back to my home state and be closer to my family. Now my health problems are mostly resolved (I thought), but my priorities have shifted, and I am tired of the NYC rat race. My partner came around to the idea, and we started planning. I've done extensive research on housing costs, cost of living, job market and moving expenses. We have a solid plan, and financially, it makes sense. And I really, really want to move.

Last week, our landlord offered us a very large sum of money to move out of our rent-controlled apartment. It's life-changing money. It's enough money to pay for the move, cars, and a house outright in my home state. We are in the midst of negotiations now, and it's very time sensitive deal. They want our answer by Friday. We would probably need to leave our apartment by the end of June at the latest. The plan is that I would quit my job and go on COBRA until I get a new job in my home state (where there is a decent job market for my skills). My partner is self-employed and his income situation wouldn't change much, and I cover insurance for both of us.

The Crisis: Last week, I got my second mammogram. I just turned 40, and have no history of breast cancer in my family. However, I was called back for further imaging, and the radiologist has detected a small amount (less than 2mm) of "debris" in a milk duct, and I am scheduled for a biopsy on Monday. The soonest I will get the pathology back is end of next week. It could be nothing, or it could be something requiring treatment. I currently have excellent health insurance with my job.

So what. the. fuck. do we do? We have to give an answer to the landlord before I know the results of the biopsy. My doctors say they can't give me advice until the pathology is back.

Is it crazy for me to consider quitting my current job and going on COBRA while I have this breast issue looming?

I basically see these possible scenarios for continuing with the move:

Large chance that it's nothing, we breath a sigh of relief and start packing.

Medium chance that it's a small DCIS and that delaying treatment by 6-10 weeks really won't harm anything. If I do require treatment (based on my research) it would likely be a lumpectomy and maybe radiation. This wouldn't significantly impair my job search, and I would be re-employed in 3-6 months (our move plan easily allows for this window of me trying to find a job and staying on COBRA).

Small chance that it's something that would require a more extensive surgery/recovery, possibly delaying my job search and extending the length of time we stay on expensive COBRA and I'm not contributing to the expenses, eating into our buy-out money.

Tiny chance that it's something mega bad that will require immediate treatment, but we still have to leave our apartment, I won't be able to help pack, and we start burning through our buy-out money on a sublet for an undetermined about of time, reducing the financial incentive for moving in the first place (although I would be able to keep my job and full benefits).

Things I'm not considering here? Experiences? Advice?
posted by fuzzywuzzysock to Health & Fitness (45 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why not take the money, clear out of your current apartment, and grab a new one in NYC for the near-term while you figure out the mammogram? I know you want to get back to your home state, but that kind of a sum of money presumably would also go a long way toward letting you find a decent apartment quickly. Then you can take your time re-figuring the job/health insurance/move based on new health information as it comes in.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:04 AM on May 9, 2013 [32 favorites]

I thought you were going to say that the worst possible outcome was that you couldn't afford proper treatment on COBRA or something.

Given the options as you've laid them out here: if I were you, I'd take the payout from your landlord.

(Caveat: I don't know the ins and outs of the US health system, etc., so I may be missing something. That's just how it looks to me, if I were playing the odds, given the info provided.)

Fingers crossed for a good diagnosis.
posted by Salamander at 8:04 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tell the landlord that due to unforeseen circumstances you will NOT be able to make a decision until you get the results.
posted by brujita at 8:05 AM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

The last statistic I heard: More than half of all US bankruptcies are due to large medical bills. It makes no difference whether or not they had "good insurance." I would take the money. That's a no brainer. As someone else said: You can take the money and keep your job long enough to hear the test results.
posted by Michele in California at 8:09 AM on May 9, 2013

Tomorrowful has it - take the money, find a sublet for a couple of months, and then move for real once this is settled.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:10 AM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Do it. COBRA continues your previous insurance, right? It just costs more money, which you have. You'll continue to have excellent coverage but will pay more for it.

You'll get a new job in your home state and will get insurance again, so you shouldn't have to worry about a gap in your coverage.

Honestly, your worst case (stay in NYC, keep your job, but go through the money faster) doesn't sound that bad.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:10 AM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Totally depends on where you would be moving to, I think. NYC, next to Boston, probably has the best medical care in the country, and I would not leave for even life changing money (which might not be life changing if you were on COBRA for any amount of time.)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:13 AM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

In your position, it seems crazy to turn down the cash either way. If you get sick, you need the money. If you're not sick, woohoo you have the money!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:17 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to hear your news--hopefully, you'll get a favorable diagnosis.

I personally would stay and would stay in the rent controlled apartment. Why?

1) You will continue your coverage with your current employer, and have peace of mind.

2) Your landlord will, in all likelihood, raise the offer to have you vacate the apartment.

Your LL, in most situations, can't get rid of you. You are in the driver's seat. You can tell him whatever you want (I wouldn't get into the medical angle, since that shows a financial need on your part). I'd just say, thanks for the generous offer, but it's a great apartment and you have no current plans of moving, and certainly not at that price. But perhaps you'd reconsider in 6 months, or a year.

Done and done. Best of luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:18 AM on May 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Decision to take the offer has to precede biopsy results, but job-quitting does not have to precede biopsy results. So you wouldn't be switching to COBRA unless you knew it was okay to switch. I can sympathize with the surreal mindfuck all of this must be, but I think the logic of taking the offer is good.

There are excellent medical specialists to be found in much of the U.S., and you'd only need one team of them (not a city's worth of excellence).

For people wondering about the landlord: there's probably a purchase offer for the building (or a similar time-sensitive offer from a third party) that's being prevented only by the presence of this rent-controlled unit. The current offer, at least (and no one can predict the timing of the next one) may well evaporate without some motion now.
posted by kalapierson at 8:19 AM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Get a cheap place with a short-term lease that's outside of the city and that you can commute from (Sleepy Hollow has a Metro North station), take the landlord's money and wait for things to shake out. Move whenever feasible.
posted by charlemangy at 8:19 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you haven't done it already, the first option should be telling the landlord that you have a potential health crisis that will affect your decision, and you'd like to wait a week to give your decision. That may be a deal breaker, or it may be OK, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:23 AM on May 9, 2013

Earlier posters have it: Take the offer, chuck the money into a savings account, and plan on moving into a crummy sublet and keeping your job until your health is adequately explained. If you find out it's nothing in a week, you may not even need to find a sublet!
posted by Andrhia at 8:28 AM on May 9, 2013

Isn't it possible that the landlord's deadline is just a negotiating tactic to try to rush you into a decision lest you do more research on what a fair deal is and/or push for more money? What I'm saying is maybe that's not a hard deadline but rather a soft deadline and can be extended.
posted by Dansaman at 8:29 AM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

The landlord might have a time sensitive offer on the building, they might not be able to wait a week for your answer.

I would take the money in a heartbeat. You want to move. The money will help you get a good start back in your home state.

There is no reason why you'd have to move RIGHT NOW, though, even after taking the money. Like you assume, you probably won't be required to vacate your apartment until the end of June. That should give you plenty of time to get the results of your biopsy back and proceed accordingly. If you require additional treatment, keep your job until that treatment is over and move to a smaller sublet in the meantime. It'll be a little stressful but doable and you won't have to pay for extended COBRA insurance.

If this money is life-changing, take it. You will figure out the particulars of your employment/living situation later, there is no real downside here.
posted by lydhre at 8:30 AM on May 9, 2013

Also, you don't really mention what your partner wants to do, other than the fact that you talked them into moving.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:31 AM on May 9, 2013

As a former housing advocate, albeit not an attorney...there is NO PRICE that can be put on a rent-stabilized lease in Manhattan. It's one of the hardest things to deal with in divorces, for example.

Don't take the buyout. At least not now when other stuff is going on. First, figure out your health! Continue thinking about moving, new job, etc. And then, when everything else is settled, talk business with your landlord.

If you have a signed lease, the apartment is yours. Don't allow anyone to lay a time pressure trip on you. What's more, you can LEGALLY sublet for up to two leases (four years max.) as long as you plan to return when the sublet is over.

If the LL is talking buyout now, he'll still be willing to do business 6 mos. or a year from now.
posted by skbw at 8:33 AM on May 9, 2013 [20 favorites]

Another thing you should keep in mind is that while COBRA allows you to keep your insurance, it only allows you to continue with whatever plan you currently have. If your home state is considered to be out of the coverage area, you might find that your benefits are reduced or nonexistent.
posted by Gev at 8:34 AM on May 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

Mini-response to the point lydhre raises--the landlord may, indeed, be in time-sensitive negotiations of his own, but that is his problem, not yours.
posted by skbw at 8:34 AM on May 9, 2013

Mini-response to the point lydhre raises--the landlord may, indeed, be in time-sensitive negotiations of his own, but that is his problem, not yours.

Er, how he deals with his time-sensitive negotiations affects the money he's offering the OP, yes?
posted by charlemangy at 8:43 AM on May 9, 2013

Agreeing with the above: Take the money, pack up most of your stuff and put it in storage, get a sublet and stay at your job until you know the results of your biospy. If you have until the end of June to move out, then you'll probably have plenty of time to deal with minor health issues and not even have to deal with the sublet at all and can peace out of NYC healthy with pockets lined.
posted by greta simone at 8:47 AM on May 9, 2013

Okay. It sounds like your home state is one of those in which you can buy a really nice house for under $100k, as compared to NYC in which a basic non-rent-controlled one-bedroom can easily run $20-30,000 per year, which would certainly put a dent in your grand total, not to mention the moving expenses of moving twice instead of once. I can see why you'd consider staying in NYC for treatment to be a worst-case scenario. You didn't use any numbers, but if they're not offering you something more of order $300,000 than $80,000, don't do it.
posted by aimedwander at 8:48 AM on May 9, 2013

Oh, and definitely no amount of money is worth leaving a rent stabilized apartment.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:49 AM on May 9, 2013

You might want to read this recent article before you get your results.

With Obamacare you're going to have to have insurance starting next year and depending on which state you'd move to, you might have very good options on the exchanges that are being set up.

If you've run the financials and can cover the cost of COBRA and/or insurance from an exchange, I think you'll be fine.

You'll also want to consider where you want to receive treatment if needed.
posted by brookeb at 8:53 AM on May 9, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the feedback

To answer some questions:

Why the buyout is so time sensitive-We live in a luxury condo building. The apartment next to ours has been vacated. They can combine the two apartments and make it a giant apartment worth more money than selling the two units separately. They had already started demoing the other apartment in prep for a gut renovation. They have stopped this process temporarily while we negotiate, but are not willing to suspend the process indefinitely. The big buy out is contingent on them being able to combine the apartments. We suspect they have a potential buyer for the combined unit. They will not wait for my diagnosis. Tomorrow is a hard deadline. While there could be a potential buyout offer in the future, we doubt it would be for as much as they are offering us now.

Concerns about getting a sublet and staying in NYC: We currently live in a rent controlled apartment, so any sublet, even a smaller one, is going to cost us a great deal more than we pay now. Also, there will be added moving and storage expenses (we are grown-ups with nice things, many inherited, and lots of equipment related to my partners work). It just seems stressful and complicated. We already have free temporary housing lined up if we choose to move to the other city.

My insurance: I'm not worried about unexpected expenses that won't be covered. Unfortunately, I've had to utilize my coverage a lot in the past, including for surgery and hospitalization, and other than some small co-pays, my insurance covers everything. And thanks to those who mentioned it, specifically Gev... I just checked for doctors who take my insurance (CIGNA) and there are plenty in the city where we would be moving. The home city is a medical hub... lots of great doctors, hospitals, well known medical school, and a breast cancer center.
posted by fuzzywuzzysock at 8:55 AM on May 9, 2013

Upon reading your update, I definitely would not leave my job or my apartment.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:57 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and definitely no amount of money is worth leaving a rent stabilized apartment.

Rent control is worth a quantifiable amount of money over the life of the tenancy, so any buyout over that amount is worth taking. If you were planning on moving anyway, this sounds like a no-brainer.

However. I would want to make sure to negotiate the maximum possible buyout. Just because this is a life-changing amount of money to you doesn't mean it's a fair price.

Please talk to a real estate attorney who understands the NYC market and have her negotiate the buyout for you. It sounds like we are talking about low six figures here. Don't rush this decision and don't take the offer without having someone look at it. It's very very possible that they are giving you this Friday deadline to prevent you from talking to someone who could negotiate a higher buyout.
posted by payoto at 8:57 AM on May 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

Is your building about to go coop or whatever it is in NYC? That happened to my cousin in a rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side, she had the right to buy it for a ridiculously low price, and it's now worth a small fortune- to her, not to the former landlord. Have you talked with the other tenants?

In the meantime, if you do sell find a way to stay in NYC a while longer because if the biopsy turns out problematic you don't want to be dealing with a whole bunch of new doctors. What's the medical scene like in your hometown? Will you have access to the kind of state-of-the-art medical care you have in NY?

I had a biopsy a few years ago, yours sounds very similar, mine was nothing, and I hope yours will be too.
posted by mareli at 8:57 AM on May 9, 2013

If you're in the "I'd love to move out if not for the looming medical situation" category -- if that's literally the only reason you're not taking the money and moving out of state -- I'd suggest you give your landlord a pretty simple set of three choices: either (a) landlord agrees to leave the terms as-is but allow you to postpone the decision for a reasonable length of time (and here I'd say like a month at least, you may need time for a second opinion), (b) landlord offers you, say, 2-3x the amount of the current move-out offer and, if you're bold, to setup and pay for a short-term (furnished?) rental for you in NYC for at least 3 months, or (c) you apologize but will, respectfully, have to decline the offer.

Those 3 options, framed non-confrontationally, as a "I understand your situation and I'd like to help you, but before I can accept the offer I need to feel comfortable, and that'll either require time for the tests results, etc., so that I know what I'll be dealing with or I need to feel secure in my ability to deal with whatever may happen".

But that's only if you really would happily take the current offer if not for the medical situation, and this is just advice from the internet and clearly I'm not privy to any of your specifics, so take it with a grain of salt, but as I understand your circumstances it is my good-faith suggestion.

Edit: based on your additional information I'd say you shouldn't take the offer.
posted by hoople at 9:03 AM on May 9, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry... I should have added that we do have an attorney, someone we've been working with for years. She helped us secure the lease on the apartment several years ago. And we are negotiating with the landlords- the offer we are at now was after several rounds offers and counter-offers. And it's a fair offer according to our attorney. It just has a deadline.

Some time ago, there was an "insider" offer for us to buy the apartment. It was still well beyond our grasp, and even if we could have afforded it, the carrying costs alone (not including a mortgage) are more than we can afford to pay.
posted by fuzzywuzzysock at 9:06 AM on May 9, 2013

You know why aggressive people set deadlines on things and make you decide RIGHT GODDAMMIT NOW?

Because they know that their offer sucks. Maybe it only sucks a little, but they know that if you have time to think about it and do some research and really get all the pros and cons lined up in neat little columns, you will laugh in their fucking face, or at least say "Nah, let's kick that up by 10 percent."

Tell your landlord that you're not going to make a decision until your tests come back, but that you will conditionally agree to the amount he is currently offering and not use the time to come up with yet another counteroffer.
posted by Etrigan at 9:10 AM on May 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

I disagree with the general tone here. It sounds like a great offer and you should take it. You've done your research, you have good advice, and it's a LIFE-CHANGING amount of money.

Try to move some of the other moving parts: Ask to stay longer than June (if possible). See if there is another unit in that building or another they know of that you might stay in longer. Say yes, but mention the possible diagnosis and see what else they can kick in to help. Can your employer continue to keep you on payroll as a consultant for a while longer? Maybe you can work remotely from your home town (even in a slightly different capacity) and keep your non-COBRA health insurance? Does someone at your job have a place you and your partner might housesit while you sort it out? Etc.
posted by 3491again at 9:20 AM on May 9, 2013

I hate to pile on a stressful decision, and maybe this is incredibly obvious and you've already considered it, but make sure you know the tax implications of accepting the buy-out from your landlord. If you get a huge chunk of money won't the government want their cut?

Also if you take the buyout but stay in NYC for a bit have you considered if it'd be worth it to live in Jersey City/Queens/WhitePlains or some other cheaper place outside of Manhattan and just suck up the commute until you can make an informed decision about your health? For all the scorn heaped on Bridge&Tunnelers it isn't that difficult, just take a book or iPad on the train every day.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:21 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, if it were me I'd take the money in a heartbeat. BUT I have friends/family I could fall back on in the NYC area if everything went to shit. Only you can decide if it's worth it for you.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:25 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would take the money and start planning the move. Having your family around is invaluable in the worst case scenario. If it really was the worst case, you could ask your doc in NYC to refer to a doc in your home state, stay with your mom, and let your partner pack up. You go on medical leave from work and resign when it's up. Odds are though, it's nothing and you can pack on your schedule.

Don't discount family support in a health crisis. If anything, I would start making the steps to get closer to them, not stay away.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:25 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm leaning towards taking the money. You say you don't WANT to stay in NYC and that's kind of the bottom line.

Having a rent-controlled apartment in a place you don't want to live any more is no bonus. If you can take your insurance where you want to go, do that.

I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed for you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:30 AM on May 9, 2013

Best answer: Are you asking for permission to move? You have mine.

Speaking as someone who had a bad mammogram with a duct obstruction (probably worse than yours) and it *did* turn out to be bad news (so basically your worst-case scenario) -- although not a doctor, so of course, do what your doctors say: It's not a tumor yet. Even if it's big, angry cancer, you have time to move and get settled. They told me I could wait a few months until it was a "better time" to do a lumpectomy/mastectomy/whatever option I picked. If having it hanging over your head is too stressful, deal with it ASAP. But you won't die if you wait a little while.
posted by katieinshoes at 9:35 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Again... thank you. It really helps to have some new thoughts on the situation. My partner and I have gone round and round for the past 48 hours, and are sort of stupefied.

We are well aware of the tax implications. A call to our accountant was right after the call to our attorney once we started negotiations- the total tax burden will be about 30.7% (capital gains, state, city). Even after taxes, we will still have the cash to do the things we've dreamed about.

My partner wants me to be happy. The move makes huge financial sense, and the place where we are moving is actually one of the best places in the country for his work (even better than NYC). And, if one of the more dire scenarios happen, we would have the benefit of family nearby. We don't have that in NYC.

I'll show him this thread.
posted by fuzzywuzzysock at 9:46 AM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe I don't understand NYC real estate, but is this an apartment building (landlord owns all the units), or a condo (each owner owns their unit)? Is it both?

If it's an apartment building and the landlord wants to merge the units and drop your rent-controlled behinds, I don't see where the time pressure is. Construction already started and he found someone on the hook for a large rent? Seems like the ball is in your court here.

If it's a condo, who is this landlord? You mean the guy who really owns your unit and he wants to sell it to the next-door owner so they can merge? Still seems like the ball is in your court.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:56 AM on May 9, 2013

Well, you have to decide quickly, but you don't have to move out on Saturday, right? Make sure your move-out date is a week or so after the test results (also, call your doc and let them know that it's imperative that you gets the results ASAP). And then be prepared to find temporary accommodations or start up your move-out-of-state plans.
posted by amanda at 10:21 AM on May 9, 2013

The correct time to follow your dream is: NOW
posted by blue_beetle at 12:12 PM on May 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hm. I'd ask myself...if I were totally healthy and had no special housing concern, would I be so set on returning to my home state?
posted by skbw at 1:25 PM on May 9, 2013

You don't say whether you are married or moving to a state where domestic partners can get their partners health benefits, but I would be checking that out. If only one of you finds a job quickly you'll need to be able to fall back on that.

Also, I have a friend with breast cancer. Her meds without insurance costs 100ks a year. Luckily she has insurance, but I believe cobra runs out at some point and your treatment could last for years. Hers has. Bite the bullet and get a sublease until you know your prognosis. If you need treatment either stay in NYC or have him move without you and you can follow when he has a job with benefits. I would not risk having cancer while on cobra. This isn't something you can take a gamble on, but you can take a gamble on giving up a rent controlled apartment, just not your insurance until you get the ok from your doctors.
posted by whoaali at 4:43 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think whoaali has it: "I would not risk having cancer while on cobra." One too many unknowns.
posted by skbw at 6:20 AM on May 10, 2013

Response by poster: A bit of an update. On Friday, my partner called our contact for building owners*. There was an away message stating she was out for the day. He left a message, not with our decision, but asking her to call him. He did the same thing yesterday, but still no call. So we are in limbo...maybe they are rescinding the offer, maybe they have just slowed things down. In any case, I had the biopsy as planned yesterday, and the radiologist assured me the results would be back by Friday. If they do get in touch with us about the buy-out this week, we will have some wiggle room because our attorney will need to review any legal documents before we sign, and we can pull out if my results are anything serious.

*Clarification about who the "landlord" is. Our building was a rental building until 2007, when it was bought by a company, and converted into a condo building. Market rate tenants were asked to leave at the end of their leases, and eventually those apartments were renovated and sold. When I say landlord, I am referring to the owner of the building, who also still owns all of the rental units occupied by rent-stabilized and rent-controlled tenants, who have legal protections and cannot be forced to leave.
posted by fuzzywuzzysock at 10:51 AM on May 14, 2013

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