Working in Rutherford, NJ. Where should I live? Can I live in NYC?
April 5, 2014 7:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm a single, college-educated, mid-twenties male who will very likely be relocating from the West Coast to the Tri-State area in a few months for a full-time desk job in Rutherford, New Jersey. I'd love to know your recommendations for affordable rooms, apartments, studios, etc. in safe and convenient neighborhoods. [N.B. I grew up in and lived in South Brooklyn for many years, so I'm familiar with the NYC area, but I've never lived in NJ nor ever considered living there in the past.]

Some details (I apologize for how disorganized this will probably be):

1. My annual salary will be roughly $50,000, and I will have full benefits (health + dental insurance, 401k, etc.). I will be expected to stay a minimum of 5 years at the job. The hours will likely be 8-5 or 9-6, probable occasional overtime.

2. I currently owe $80,000 in student loan debt (mostly private loans - which are ineligible for deferment). I have only ever been able to afford minimum payments on each loan (both while employed and unemployed) since finishing my undergrad four years ago. One of the biggest reasons I'm taking the job is to allow me to pay off my loans once and for all, which I’d like to be aggressive about doing while working. [BTW, any advice on doing this with the details I've provided would be greatly appreciated!]

3. The 30% rule for rent indicates with my given salary I should pay no more than $1250/month. Do I have any real options there for living in Manhattan that are convenient getting to NJ from? I’m pretty minimalist and frugal, and I’ve lived in a basement closet in NYC in the past, with literally just enough space for a twin-sized bed and a dresser, but naturally I would prefer NOT to repeat the experience of living in a box if I can help it. I can probably stretch my budget a little bit, but my priority right now is paying off my loans ASAP.

4. I will not have a car. I’m not even considering owning a car while I’m in the NYC/NJ area.

5. I may be able to room with a friend of mine in a 2BR apartment in the Nolita area for ~$1000/month, which is a steal by NYC standards. We get along just swell, and his apartment is central to lots of places I'd want to go to regularly. The estimated one-way commute to/from the office is 1 hour and 10 minutes (according to Google Maps), and would involve at least one transfer. Is the long commute worth living in Manhattan for?

*Unfortunately, there's no guarantee he'll be able to stay in his apartment by the time I move (I will be the first to know, though). I personally think this would be the best option for me if it did pan out, but am I being wildly overoptimistic about commuting from Manhattan to NJ and back on a daily basis? How hellish would it be?

It probably goes without saying I’m biased towards living in NYC. One of the biggest appeals for me about accepting the job (an opportunity I know I’m incredibly fortunate to have) is being close enough to NYC to enjoy the lifestyle, culture, and energy of the city. I’m fairly extroverted and spontaneous, have many friends who still live in NYC, and have many different hobbies that I’d like to keep up (on an ancillary note, I should mention that despite growing up in NYC, I’m more of a West Coast kind of person).

I may be over-romanticizing these aspects of NYC, but I worry that living in New Jersey would deprive me of a lot of the organic experiences and interactions that come from being in the city. Obviously, I could take the bus to/from Manhattan after work, but it seems like it would be such a chore to do so on a regular basis. I’m mostly deathly worried about ending up in a situation where I’d spend all of my weekdays living on repeat: working and then going home to be a shut-in in New Jersey, where I know nary a soul. I'm young and exuberant; I want to go out and do things!

Anyway, all that said:

1. Where would you ultimately recommend living for my job: Manhattan or New Jersey? What neighborhoods should I look at in each? What other parts of town should I consider looking at (i.e. Is it feasible commuting from parts of Brooklyn or Queens all the way to New Jersey? How are areas like Weehawken, NJ in terms of expenses, safety, convenience, etc.? What areas of Manhattan should I look at for apartments that I can get to NJ from without destroying my wallet?)

2. Complicating matters is the fact that I’m not anywhere near the area (I’m 3,000 miles away) to look at potential apartments. What can I do while I’m away to scope out apartments or sublets? What sites / resources should I consult to help me plan moving?

3. Everywhere else that I’ve moved around the country, I used Craigslist, which I’ve had a very surprising amount of success with (in Seattle, I was able to find a room in a house, look at it, AND sign the lease for it when I flew up to visit for one week. Then, when I actually moved in, it took me no longer than a week to fully furnish my room, thanks again to Craigslist!). I’m doubtful I can replicate that kind of success looking for places in NYC (and yeah, I know there aren’t quite houses in the area like there are on the West Coast). I was thinking of crashing at a friend’s or relative’s place in the NYC area about a month in advance of starting my job, and pounding pavement like mad to inspect prospective places. Is that even enough time? Do I need a broker? What documentation will I need? What are NYC leases like?

Work-life balance is really important to me, so I want to put myself in the best position to succeed in both professional and personal domains. I’m looking forward to the work and making a decent living for myself, but I’d also like to keep an active social and creative life, which is why I’m turning to you guys for help figuring out where to compromise.

Really, any advice would be wonderful. This is another big move (and a longer-term commitment) for me and I want to be prepared.

Bonus points if anyone who has lived in NYC and worked in NJ could share some of their experiences doing so. It’d be tremendously helpful for me to have a sense of what I’ll be getting into.

Many thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
50k is not a lot of money by NYC standards these days, but I think you could get by in the city IF the Nolita apartment situation pans out. It would at least stabilize your views of the city and your work / home lives. It would also be the cheapest in terms of initial investment cost. It's not terribly far from Penn Station, and it's central to the "downtown lifestyle".

If the Nolita place DOES NOT work out, you'll be much better off living in NJ near your workplace and just taking the train into NYC (there's a Rutherford NJ Transit station) whenever you want to come into the city. You could even spend weekends at your friend's apartment.

Do not get a random roommate on Craigslist until you are more stable in your new work environment.
posted by NYC-BB at 7:26 PM on April 5, 2014

Honestly? I think you might like Hoboken. You can get to Rutherford by train, and there's a lot of NYC transplants living there now. Ditto Jersey City. Montclair would also give you a slightly more suburban feel, but it also has a decent number of former NYC-types living there. Either way, you'd be looking at commuting via NJ transit train or bus, and it would most likely be direct.

You do not want to live in Brooklyn or Queens and commute to NJ. You're looking at subway- NJ Transit-NJ Transit with a switch at Secaucus or subway-PATH/Ferry-NJ Transit, and a long commute either way.

Manhattan is doable- you'd have the same trip options as above, but with a shorter subway ride- but even coming from Manhattan, Penn Station at rush hour is not fun (particularly with a transfer from the subway), even if you're going "the wrong way". Nor is the PATH Station- it's been awful with the WTC construction going on. It'll get better when that's done (hah) but it'll still be crowded.
posted by damayanti at 7:35 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Jersey City? It's close to Manhattan and provides its own kind-of mini-urban experience right by the river. Check it out if you have a chance.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:14 PM on April 5, 2014

I live in Forest Hill, Newark at the moment and actually really like it, but it sounds like you're looking for a place with a bit more urban life than my (mostly) quiet street/neighborhood can offer. I'd look at Jersey City or Hoboken, both of which are a fairly quick (and cheap!) trip into the city on the PATH.

Also, you'll have way, way more money available for paying off your loans. My roommate and I pay $1200 total for our two-bedroom, and I know he paid similar prices in an apartment in Jersey City last year.
posted by naturalog at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2014

Commuting from Manhattan to Jersey everyday doesn't sound that fun, and you'll be paying a lot of money. Why not live in Hoboken or another area in Jersey that has a lot of NYC professionals? For me, any commute more than a half hour would just be too much. You should think about the sort of commute you will have. For one of my jobs, it was easier for me to live in the crappy town near my office and drive to the city on the weekends than it would've been to live in the city and commute to work five times a week. But you'll have to do what's best for you. I wouldn't think that Manhattan is the only part of the area that is cool to live in though. I think you'll find there's plenty going on elsewhere.

Since you're moving so far, you could also find a short-term living situation and then decide once you're in the area and able to look around more. Maybe you can find a place that will do a three-month lease or something.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:55 PM on April 5, 2014

last time I checked Jersey City had one of the highest crime rates in Jersey. And when I last visited the place (many years ago) it certainly looked like it had well earned that reputation. I would try hoboken instead though it's a litte pricier.
posted by manderin at 5:21 AM on April 6, 2014

Jersey City's more serious crime is mostly in the Greenville area.

Downtown has gentrified about as much as Hoboken, and the prices reflect that. If you want to be in JC, near the PATH but with lower rents (to afford your own place), the Journal Square area is your best bet. If you want a more "happening" place you may prefer downtown or Hoboken (and a roommate).
posted by fings at 5:50 AM on April 6, 2014

I lived in Jersey City Heights for a decade and worked in Montclair for a little while. I agree with others about Hoboken. Easy commute to Rutherford & the city. Depending on what you consider a decent apartment, you may find something doable for a little more than what you want to pay. If not, JC Heights was a great place to live and very safe by JC standards. You will basically be reverse commuting since most people are heading in to the city for work, so if you have to bus it, it might not be too bad. The PATH or Amtrack would still be preferable though.
Also, sometimes living in NY and working in Jersey is an extra little pain in the butt at tax time. You will have to file in both places and make sure you claim your taxable earnings as having been taxed elsewhere or else it will hurt. There is also a small portion to be paid to NY for the pleasure of living there.
posted by MayNicholas at 6:17 AM on April 6, 2014

I really can't overstate how grueling the NYC-NJ commute can be. Google Maps is pretty bad at estimating travel time in the NYC area so I would assume that your commute from Nolita would probably be closer to 1.5 hours, possibly more if you are taking a bus into NJ. Plus, you'll be working against your goal of aggressively paying down your student loans-- you'll probably spend an extra ~$200/month since you'll need a Metrocard and taking buses/trains between NY and NJ is $1-2 more than traveling within NJ.

I agree that you're better off living in Hoboken or Jersey City, so that you'll have a shorter/cheaper commute as well as easy 24/7 access to NYC via the PATH train (NJ Transit doesn't operate between 1 and 6AM). Hoboken especially has plenty to see and do, and it is easy enough to get around town without a car.
posted by fox problems at 7:37 AM on April 6, 2014

I recommend finding a short-term (6 months) place, if possible, in Rutherford. You can do this using Craigslist. Something walkable or a short bus trip away from the new office. Get settled into the job, save a bit of money, then get to know different areas and focus on how much time and how much you want to spend to commute. It's very easy to get to Hoboken and NY from Rutherford. You're planning to be around for a while, so you can take your time finding what works. If you find that living in Rutherford is not at all what you want, then Hoboken or NY near your commuting waypoint (Penn Station or Port Authority) is going to be the best bet for a non-soul-crushing commute.

I worked and lived in suburban Jersey for 3 years then moved to Manhattan and commuted via subway and bus out to my job in north Jersey for a year. I much, much preferred living in Manhattan and commuting out, but I needed to put in my Jersey dues first to realize that. I also saved a ton of money in rent in those Jersey years.
posted by paradeofblimps at 8:29 AM on April 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

nth-ing Hoboken or JC. When we lived there in 2003-5, we were within walking distance of a PATH station and frequently ate dinner in Little Italy, spent weekends wandering around the village, etc.

Back then JC cost 1/2 of what Hoboken did, because it had less to offer by itself (e.g. we also sometimes took the light rail to Hoboken from JC to go to restaurants).

Don't know how any of it is now, but a decade ago, it was the obvious choice, and my boss who commuted from Long Island to Jersey City had a 90 minute hell commute and I had a 15 minute walk.

Long commutes are a big factor in employee unhappiness. Think about how long you want to spend getting to and from work, which you'll do 200 days a year, vs. how long you want to spend getting into the city for entertainment, which you'll do fewer days a year than that.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:31 AM on April 6, 2014

Is your new job near a bus line or train station? Which ones? Knowing the answer to this question is key to knowing where you can live without a car.
posted by mmf at 8:47 AM on April 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with mmf. All of this is essentially unknowable without knowing what public transportation will be available from your workplace. However, I suspect that you'll better meet your savings goals while living in NJ (nightly socializing and commuting in NYC will get expensive fast)--though in many parts of Jersey, it's far easier to have a social life if you have a car.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2014

Anywhere urban to Rutherford for an 8-5 job is going to be a reverse commute -- only one train or bus an hour in many cases. Don't forget to factor that in.

If your office is near the station, at $100k a year downtown Hoboken is a no-brainer given the (literally) two stop ride to Rutherford. Easy walk to the station, easy PATH to the city when you want it.

But at $50k a year with a desire to save seriously -- Hoboken ain't for you. It's become very expensive. Forget about Manhattan.

Take an apartment which is walking distance to your office and the station. Rent will be half or less the rent in Hoboken. When you want to go out, you've got the quick train and quick PATH right there.
posted by MattD at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2014

50k salary, 80k debt and living in manhattan are not really compatible. A roommate situation makes it passile but you still won't be making much of a dent in that debt.

Even though it is a reverse commute situation you are not prepared for the reality of what that commute will be like. Leaving Hoboken (going away from the city) takes 45 minutes at rush hour and that is just to get out of city limits of Hoboken (and Hoboken is only a mile wide). From Manhattan you are looking at well over an hour for this commute. I will guess 90 minutes minimum. Public transportation makes it easier (you can read, listen to music or otherwise zone out) but bus or trains to NJ make you a slave to their infrequent schedule. It isn't like the subway that comes every few minutes. The few people I know who rely on public transportation to commute out of Manhattan have 2 hour commutes.

I live in Hoboken and love it. I've lived in Queens and Jersey City. Jersey City downtown is built up and expensive, but it's equivalent in Manhattan would be Financial district—it shuts down at night. There are affordable parts of Jersey City but it won't have what you want. They will be more run down and it won't offer much of a social life. I'd target Jersey City heights as your compromise of possible to commute to this job without a car and pretty easy to get to the city. The ninth street elevator area is the most accessible area to Manhattan via public transportation. There is a light rail stop there. The light rail map will be a good resource as that will be your way to get to Manhattan easily. I would cross reference that with bus and train maps that go to the job and find someplace that is serviced by both. Perhaps Weehawken?

Queens and jersey city for me were just means to the end of a decent place while allowing me quick access to the city. Hoboken has put me closer to Manhattan than either and it is cheaper than Manhattan. I have a 2 bedroom for $3050 to give you an idea. Rents also go up pretty aggressively every year when you stay so that makes it tough as well when your budget is stretched thin.

Landlords will want to know your salary and somewhere around that $1200 price will be as expensive a place as they will want to offer you. Putting together a renters resume can help you get considered. Include your savings, salary, debts, rental history, references, etc.

Ultimately I would get an apartment near the job and commute into the city for fun. It will save you time as you will be commuting to work more (10 times per week!) than you will be going to see friends. It will also save a ton of money as rent will be lower. Lastly it will let you explore Hoboken and Jersey City and surrounding areas and target the right neighborhood for your future apartment.
posted by ridogi at 7:38 PM on April 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Living in Jersey isn't that bad, it is what you make of it. There is a social life to be found, amazing ethnic food and neighborhoods, plus you can even find bits of nature here and there. But your life will be much easier if you get a car, even an old jalopy for shopping and getting around.

If you will be in Rutherford, save yourself the commute and find housing near your job to make life easier. Save the commute for weekends in the city. Also: you can take a ferry from the Hudson river across to Manhattan for about ten or twelve bucks, which has free transfer buses to all parts of Manhattan from the dock and back. It sure saves on parking in the city.
posted by zaelic at 7:52 AM on April 7, 2014

Do not live in Hoboken, Jersey City, Brooklyn, or Queens.

Live in Manhattan. You will be miserable otherwise (totally missing out on the NYC experience). Here's where you need to find a place:

Hell's Kitchen area (40s & low 50s).


It's the only place that's:

- affordable
- walking distance to Port Authority Bus Terminal
- direct bus to Rutherford # 122 (30 min bus ride)

No extra subway/bus headache - you simply walk to the port authority and take 1 single bus. At the end of your work day, you take the same bus back, and walk a short walk back to your apartment .

This is totally doable, and you're fortunate that your job is in Rutherford. Best of luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 9:01 AM on April 7, 2014

To the poster above me: most folks I know live in Brooklyn or Queens, and they seem to be experiencing NYC just fine. The "New York experience" is about more than just Manhattan. It always has been - but that's especially true now that most aspirational, middle-class transplants have been priced out of most of Manhattan. Can you afford Hell's Kitchen on a 50k salary? Doubtful, especially with 80k in debt.

That said, the OP does not want to live in Brooklyn or Queens because the commute to NJ would make him want to slowly tear all of his hairs out. I'll throw a couple of new suggestions out there.

Harlem/Washington Heights - not too much further to Penn than Nolita, provided you are on the right subway line. Also, there's a bus terminal at the George Washington Bridge - perhaps a bus to Rutherford leaves from there? I really don't know, but it might be worth looking into.

Other towns in Hudson County - Weehawken, Union City, maybe Fort Lee or Edgewater. I don't think these towns are very active but they're cheaper than Hoboken/JC and closer to the city than Rutherford.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:02 PM on April 7, 2014

Also: $1250 per month in rent? On a 50k salary? With 80k in student debt? I know, 30% rule and all, and you probably could make it work if you really had to, but I think your max on rent should be more like $1,000.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:07 PM on April 7, 2014

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