Help with choosing an apartment with equal but competing priorities
August 2, 2019 6:40 PM   Subscribe

I have graduated law school and I am moving to a huge city to be a prosecutor. I don't know my assignment yet but there's a good chance I'll be at the trial level and will have long hours as is usual, as I understand, for an office of this size. I've landed on two apartments which I cannot decide on because I can't figure out where my ultimate priorities are. I'm hoping to get advice from people about factors I haven't considered, and also perspectives from people similar to me who maybe have found one of these options to be better for them. I list the pros and cons below, their costs and quality and everything else is just about equal.

Apartment #1
- Pro: Literally across the street from work. At the end of the day I just want to get home ASAP and return to a calm and safe space away from people. Also, I can go home for lunch when I can. I can run back home if I forget something.
- Con: It's right in the middle of the city. I don't particularly care for the city I'm in, nor large cities in general. I don't like crowds and I don't like the smell. I'm not going to take advantage of all the "fun city life" around me.
- Con Counter: If I'm going to hide in my apartment does it really matter I'm stuck in the middle of the city? Since it's right across from work I minimize any involvement with the city.
- Con: It's smaller than my current place and it's psychologically difficult to go to a smaller space. I can probably fit all my stuff in it without having to "squeeze" things too closely together, but it'll just be this small box of a studio room, with a boxed in view. There's a very strong sense in which this place will feel like a temporary space but it could never be a place I live the rest of my life in.

Apartment #2
- Pro: It's like twice the size. I'll be able to breathe. It gets good natural light. It won't feel like I'm in the city. It won't smell. It won't be crowded. It feels like a place I could maybe live in forever, even though that's highly unlikely to be the actual case.
- Pro: It's in a beautiful looking neighborhood. I'll be able to see the changing color of the leaves which I love, both in and outside the apartment.
- Pro: I might be able to swing bringing my car, and I could drive in, which would de-complicate some small parts of the moving process that would be involved if I had to fly. I wouldn't actively drive, but it would be nice to be able to have a car for rare but occasional purposes.
- Con: It's further out. Train ride looks to be like a half-hour trip, but add in total time of like getting to the station and waiting for the train, it's maybe more like fifty minutes to an hour. I don't like the idea of getting off work and having another hour until I can really relax. If I'm doing rush hour times I'm going to be surrounded by more people. If it's late then there's very mild safety concerns but also just frustration of having another hour before I can get home when it's already so late.
posted by TheLinenLenin to Home & Garden (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you looked for something between those extremes?
posted by jon1270 at 6:44 PM on August 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

If it were me, I think I'd go to apartment one as a first option. You'll have an hour or two extra a day to live your life, a smaller place is probably okay, the ease of getting back and forth to a safe decent place will be useful/ If it turns out this job is AMAZING and you want to stay forever, assess your financial situation and move out of town once you know exactly what the situation will be with transport.

However if you HAAAATTTTEEE moving (some people do) apartment number two and learning to love the commute seems like the right option. More space for less money is always a good feeling.
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 PM on August 2, 2019 [9 favorites]

Does the closer apartment have a back entrance and/or does it face your place of work? It's incredibly convenient and de-stressing to be so close to work if you can truly leave work behind, but it's stressful if you might bump into work people when you're off-duty, as it were. If you can be so close yet still be able to choicefully completely avoid chance encounters with work people, then that is one thing to keep in mind, if so.
posted by zeek321 at 6:47 PM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Another reason to pick #1 is the increased possibility of hanging for a bit with co-workers after work, or with people you know who live in the city if there are any - if social life is important to you. Also this choice is not permanent.
posted by sheldman at 6:49 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

(Once in my life, I landed an apartment with a five minute walk to work, front door to office door, with a microgeography that I'd never, ever encounter work people outside of work, and it was amazing.)
posted by zeek321 at 6:49 PM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you’re working long hours, a short commute is amazing. I bet you’ll adjust to living in the center city and stop minding it, but commuting two hours a day would always be a hassle. First apartment all the way.
posted by LizardBreath at 6:52 PM on August 2, 2019 [20 favorites]

Cutting your commute time is one of the best things you can do for the quality of your life, #1 for sure.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:54 PM on August 2, 2019 [19 favorites]

Also if I can be presumptious and presume that you are a person who has not previously lived as a working person and are just getting out of school - and I know that might be wrong but it's a good guess - don't minimize the importance of *what is nearby to your home* in terms of practical logistics and pleasure. Once you take that almost-hour commute home, you have to feed yourself and you might conceivably want to go out for a drink. Much easier in the city.
posted by sheldman at 6:55 PM on August 2, 2019 [12 favorites]

Realistically, it's unlikely that either of these places is going to be a long-term arrangement (I am assuming you're renting, not buying). Things will change. Your priorities will change.

I say take the close place, knowing you're probably not going to stay there more than 2 years. Focus on work. When you have free time, go explore those outer neighborhoods where you might decide to move later. Try out that commute occasionally on work nights, and decide how you feel about them.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:56 PM on August 2, 2019 [14 favorites]

I don't know what hours count as long in the public sector, but if you're anywhere near BigLaw hours, commute time will be the overriding priority. Those two hours a day could be the difference between keeping up on sleep and being nonfunctional by the end of the week.

Even if your hours aren't that extreme, living within walking distance to work is approximately the best lifestyle upgrade available to anyone who can afford it. I say this as someone who still longs for the ten minute bike commute he had ten years ago.

And, yes, you can always move once you have a better idea where you spend your time.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:03 PM on August 2, 2019 [13 favorites]

Does option #1 have a nearby grocery store? If not, how much of a hassle is food delivery or acquisition?
posted by Jacen at 7:04 PM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Personally I'd pick the farther place, because IME having the shorter commute is not as important as actually enjoying the space (inside and out) that I live in. I found it far easier to build some pleasantness (or at least, something approximating) into a commute to a place that I really liked than it was to go home to a place I never felt truly comfortable in.
posted by sm1tten at 7:11 PM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have done #1 and would 100% do again. It was on the upper east side in nyc so also had all other things I needed in life - groceries, recreation, etc. I did not love nyc life but I would have loved it even less with a commute that required the subway. I had an easy weekend escape to family via metro north when I really needed to get away...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:13 PM on August 2, 2019

#1 all the way.

I just moved cities and have found myself in a similar situation. Going home for lunch is life changing. If you can afford it, do it. You can make that place your safe haven.
posted by nathaole at 7:16 PM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

#2, or a version of #2 with a shorter commute. Are you working with a person to help you find them, or is this all Craigslist & shoe-leather?
posted by rhizome at 7:17 PM on August 2, 2019

#1. Everything everyone else said about short commute = more of your life back. But more to the point, you have a lot of unanswered questions that make #2 less manageable. Do you need a car or not? Do you want to drive to work? How long is the commute really? What about bad weather? How long are you going to stay there? What surrounds it? Etc.

Right now, you are going to be going into a first year of complete learning - what it's like to hold down this sort of job. what it's like to have a semblance of social life in the city, what it's like to live and work in this real-world arrangement. Don't start out at difficulty level 4 with the expense and time of a commute on top of it. Treat this whole year as exploratory, and opt for simplicity as you adjust. A year from now you'll know a lot better what you want to prioritize.
posted by Miko at 7:32 PM on August 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh my God, take apartment #1. You will be so tired, and so stressed, and spend so many late nights at the office that your tiny shoebox will seem like a godsend. You can move later when things calm down or if you hate it.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:37 PM on August 2, 2019 [15 favorites]

Between those choices, I would pick #1. But if it's an option, I would keep looking a little longer for something relatively close to work that you like a little better. I was once considering an apartment that I wasn't fully happy about, and the apartment broker showing it convinced me that it was worth finding something I loved (he made no effort to sell me on anything else). A few days later I found something that was perfect for me on Craigslist.
posted by pinochiette at 7:37 PM on August 2, 2019

I am in the legal profession. I just changed from a 50 minute commute to an 8 minute commute. The difference in emotional weight is huge. I can stop by the grocery store on the way home and still be home in time to binge watch all the shows I want before bed. I also can make doctors appointments for lunchtime and sneak out for an hour. I can go to the gym before work and then shower at home before work. Nothing is a huge production. Life is way easier.

Especially if you’re just starting out, choose the short commute. Live there for a year or 2, and once you get a better feel for the city and your career you can move on.
posted by katypickle at 7:44 PM on August 2, 2019 [17 favorites]

Of those two choices, I vote #1. But really, it sounds like neither is all that ideal -- can you either keep looking now, or arrange a short term (~6 month) lease on a place, however imperfect, so you can look once you are living there?

Personally I have found it incredibly draining to lose the time a long commute takes. All the regular life stuff (dinner, laundry, social stuff) takes just as long, but you have two hours less to do it all, so sleep ends up getting compromised. But not everyone is the same, and your priorities might be different. I work with plenty of people who have long commutes every day; they all sort of complain about it, but not in the way that implies they are considering changing anything.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:45 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Something you didn't really get into in your question is about sleep. Do you sleep easily in noisier environments? Is the area where Apt #1 is located going to be noisy at night? Is that going to be an issue for you?
posted by acidnova at 8:11 PM on August 2, 2019

A two hour a day verses five minute commute is like working a full day a week for free. Even if the stuff you like to do is half an hour away you are still saving an hour a day if you go out every day. The only way I'd consider #2 in this sort of situation was if it was some once in a lifetime price opportunity (like $500 a month for a place with $2000 comparables).
posted by Mitheral at 8:11 PM on August 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

The difference in commute will make a huge difference for you when the hours are long. Like you won't believe. #1.

(Very presumptuously, I'm going to encourage you to make a real effort to get to like your city, and the crowds, and the people. [The smell may be too much to ask of anyone.] Your job will systematically pressure you to dehumanize the people of your city. You will need to figure out how to fight that, while still doing your job well. Our cities do not need any more suburban-spirited prosecutors who see the city environment, and the people who make it up, as disgusting or subhuman.)
posted by praemunire at 8:35 PM on August 2, 2019 [23 favorites]

If you’re working the kind of hours that junior prosecutors in my city work, you’re going to appreciate being able to stagger home at 1 am to take a shower, then roll back to the office to continue trial prep. And seconding praemunire on actually connecting to the community that you are supposed to be serving and protecting, even if you do take number 2.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:39 PM on August 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Number one seems way more appealing to me from the way you have worded this. The book "Goodbye, Things" by Fumio Sasaki makes a strong case for how much energy you can free up by having a more minimalist life, it's very motivational. While I wouldn't go as far as they do, a good de-clutter and a simpler life would seem to be the better way to go from my point of view too.
posted by AuroraSky at 8:40 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Where will your social life take place? What will you do at the weekends? Consider if the apartments have access to a laundry, connections to subway and taxi rank for weekend socialising, grocery shops as others have mentioned. Is there a park or some green space near either of them? Somewhere you could exercise?
posted by EatMyHat at 8:53 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're upwardly mobile, is there a forseeable payday/ raise in the near future? That could trigger moving to an even better place.

I'd go with the smaller place close to work, it's also probably closer/ walkable to practical "stuff" instead of having to drive everywhere. You might have to pay a small premium for said stuff, but it's worth the convenience.

Do you end up with more income modulo COL with the new job? I'd be tempted to shed stuff that I absolutely didn't need/ actively had sentiment for.

It's a new era of your life, a declutter (and the attendant trip down lanes memory) could be edifying.

Then you get upgrades, as space allows.
posted by porpoise at 8:59 PM on August 2, 2019

I'd take #1 and dedicate some of the commuting time you save to exploring the city. You might find that it has appeal, even charms, that elude you now, as a person who is prepared to dislike it. If you are considering, say, Wall Street and the financial district, I might agree with you and go for apt #2 as an antidote and solace for the soul, but most cities that have communities with residences and small businesses do have charm and souls. You might find there advantages other than a short commute to an urban setting. And for a junior lawyer there is no better perk than more sleep.
posted by citygirl at 9:01 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

To ask a totally sideways question, how excited are you about practicing law? Is the dream of being a trial lawyer what got you through school, or is this posting a necessary step on a path to what you really want, or it is experiencing the world of trial law and maybe you'll try other types of law befor eyou settle into the long term, or is it the job you got because you're finally done with awful law school and now you're going to be a lawyer dammit because yes that's what you said you wanted when this saga started?
You can see where I'm going with this. You already said you don't expect the job to last forever, nor the city metro area to be your forever home.
Therefore my advice: don't worry about it, just pick one, but biased towards #1. My advice to anybody starting their a job in a new city is to just pick a neighborhood near work, and move there. Aim for the cheap end, don't customize every bit of decor like it's your forever home but get out and see where else you could live and what it would be like to live there. Settle into your routine, make some friends, establish some habits, then after a year think about what would be the perfect apartment for how you're living and how you want to live, and make a move. Sure, it's a pain to move twice but it's a great feeling to have spent some time to figure out what you really want.
posted by aimedwander at 9:05 PM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I work a job that often requires long hours (sometimes till past midnight). Due to the nature of my work, for the past few years, I've lived on the same compound as my office, and so my commute is usually between 30 seconds and 5 minutes. And let me tell you, it is a fucking lifesaver!!!. I cannot possibly imagine working crazy hours and then having a commute on top of that. I also share my housing with upwards of 12 people, but if you offered me a private apartment but a 45 minute commute? No way in hell.

So definitely #1. Hands down.
posted by hasna at 9:06 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Question: for apt #2 does the train run late at night or less frequently during late night hours? Could your 50min commute turn into much longer or force you to uber home?
posted by acidnova at 9:24 PM on August 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

A short walk to work is GREAT.

The smellscape within your apartment can be altered, either by adding scents you like, or with an air purifier (or both). It won't be like living in a forest with no humans around, or even like the tree-line streets of suburbia, but it can be yours.
posted by inexorably_forward at 9:34 PM on August 2, 2019

#1 is your short term solution for finding something more like #2 that is within a much shorter commute.
posted by lollusc at 10:18 PM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just wondering how often the trains run at night? Do they run all night? You can tell I'm not a New Yorker? Out here, trains run once an hour at certain times of the day - sucks if you just miss one) Anyway, the wait for a train could be a lot longer if you are working late.
posted by metahawk at 11:01 PM on August 2, 2019

Commute will kill you on top of long hrs. That’s it. If you dislike the apartment itself keep looking but a short commute should be your priority.

Also, there is nothing to say you have to move ALL your stuff. Pick what is useful in a new space and sell/donate the rest.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:42 PM on August 2, 2019

Go with apartment #2.

My husband was a prosecutor and would often be accosted by families of defendants or defendants themselves after trials. Once a defendant actually put out a hit on him. I would not want to live within walking distance of the court house where people could easily see where I live.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 12:53 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

If long hours is like 8-6:30, and especially if you can also sit on the train (i.e, it's not standing room only), then #2 and use the commute to either manage your To Do list or to read or write something for work. The commute will let you do some thinking away from a computer, and you'll still have enough evening time to appreciate #2. Even if you can leave at a decent hour and then do some of your work from home, I'd vote #2.

If long hours is more like 8-11, or if that time on the train means being crammed with people in a way that makes it much more wasted time, then #1. Waiting for and riding the train at 11:30 PM will feel nightmarish, and then you'll barely sleep before you have to get up and head back again. Don't underestimate the train as its own geography and how it will feel for that to be a place you spend significant amounts of time.

Is this a place with rent control? Will your future jobs either be closer to #2 or with shorter hours? Then that's another point for #2. But I liked the answer above about viewing #1 as a temp place while you find a version of #2 that's closer to work.

Last point, what is this train commute going to cost you? Did you factor that in when stating that the costs were equivalent?
posted by salvia at 1:26 AM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

If in doubt, always, always go for the shortest commute. Those two hours you’ll save by not travelling could well be the difference between having any semblance of a life or not. Or it was for me, anyway.
posted by Jubey at 1:30 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do the windows in #1 look out on your workplace? If they do, look for another nearby apartment with a more neutral view. You need separation in your life, especially with such an intense demanding job.

Nthing what everyone says about commutes.
posted by mareli at 5:01 AM on August 3, 2019

#1 because you'll be gifting yourself two hours a day.

If you make that choice, downsize as much of your old stuff as possible before you move--clothes, random dishes, utensils, falling apart or oversized, worn furniture, old linens, things in bins and boxes you haven't opened, your car!!! etc. Create an inviting adult space for yourself even if it's small--less stuff but high quality stuff. Start fresh with minimalist new, attractive, multi-tasking wardrobe and furnishings. If you're not into decor, ask a friend who is to help you with paint, furniture choices that work in a small space. Get one or two interesting large pieces of of interesting, original art for your new life. Art doesn't take up room just walls. This will give you something to look at indoors since the urban outdoors isn't attractive to you. Buy decent pots, pans, knives, and dishes so you'll be tempted to cook at home and not just do takeout. This process doesn't need to be expensive, just selective. Time to yourself is worth more than space at this stage of your life. Good luck with your new job and home!
posted by Elsie at 6:45 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Apartment 1 all the way for all the reasons everyone has described. I don’t work long hours and went from a 1.5 hour round trip commute to no commute (work from home) and the difference was astonishing. More sleep! Eating better! Get to relax right after work instead of having to exist in a liminal space for 45 minutes!
posted by Automocar at 7:34 AM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is choice #1 noisy? Visit at night, are you hearing other peoples' music, arguments, street noise, etc.? Noise is a big factor in why people hate where they live. Are there coffee shops, museums, galleries or other city life that is not bars or clubs? Those things make weekends great. I'd choose #1 because being able to go across the street for your forgotten laptop is excellent. Instead of commuting to work, you'll commute to nature or other things further from town. You will also be easier on the environment.
posted by theora55 at 7:35 AM on August 3, 2019

You don't say anything about other services and you seem to already hate the city. But as a busy person you're bound to find conveniences in being in town, notably being able to shop, eat, drink and (if relevant) socialize easily on foot, from work and home.

I just changed to a job that cut my (public transit, in-town) commute from 1.5 hours to 20 minutes and I feel like I got a chunk of my life back. It's a big benefit. So I vote #1.
posted by zadcat at 10:34 AM on August 3, 2019

Pro and/or con not mentioned yet, I don't think: if everyone at work knows you live right across the street (as it were), you might become the easiest to call on when you're off the clock but something comes up. That could be super annoying AND it could be good for your career if it means you get more opportunities, visibility, and favors-owed.

Also, maybe I'm the crazy one, but I sometimes get an idea or thought when I'm not at work and have to stew on it until I'm back at work. Sometimes it would be way better for my sanity if I could just walk over and try the thing, or look at the thing, or whatever it was.

And now I'm really getting crazy, but I like what I do. I might even do it for an hour or so in my waiting-for-something-else time on a weekend if it was that easy, no car trip, etc.

Which is all to say, the close one, definitely, for me, but you might hate all those things.
posted by ctmf at 1:11 PM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

"I might even do it for an hour or so in my waiting-for-something-else time on a weekend if it was that easy" -> Billed appropriately, not for free. I'm not that crazy. Your supervisor might not appreciate surprise charges as much as mine... puts up with it sometimes.
posted by ctmf at 1:16 PM on August 3, 2019

But as a busy person you're bound to find conveniences in being in town, notably being able to shop, eat, drink and (if relevant) socialize easily on foot, from work and home.

You reminded me of something else about a long commute: it does make it more challenging to get very basic things done because you're away from your home area during all normal working hours. So for instance, when I have to pick up some package at the post office, drop off/pick up dry cleaning, get my hair cut, go to the doctor, renew my driver's license, grocery shop, get the car fixed, be around for a service call, etc., more often than not this means actually taking a day or half day off of work. The other way people handle this is getting all their services done in the city during their working day, but that doesn't work for all services, and it comes with its own inconveniences such as thinking you'll be able to step out o the office and do the thing, and then some office crisis comes up and you have to postpone. It really bifurcates your life to live far from work, especially with long hours. One sucky aspect of this too is having to spend a lot of your all too short weekends doing dumb errands that people who live close to their homes can do during the week.
posted by Miko at 3:47 PM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thoughts from a former prosecutor:
1. If you choose no. 2, you may need to drive to work. You do not want to be on public transportation with defendants, witnesses or jurors. A prosecutor becomes sort of a public figure to those who see you in court. It is very disconcerting to be confronted by various persons about cases in your office--sometimes not even your cases-- while trapped in an enclosed space. It also creates ethical issues if it is a represented defendant or a juror.
2. If you are going to be trying cases, a commute of more than 30 minutes door to door is ruinous. It is nearly impossible to try a case and commute for two hours a day. Because I worked in a jurisdiction with multiple courthouses spread out over several counties, I tried cases with short and long commutes, and anything over 30 minutes is unbearable during a trial. Many lawyers stay in a nearby hotel during trials for this reason alone.
3. The ability to go home, take a shower and change your clothes during the day or evening is priceless. All your stuff is already at your apartment, so it is just much easier and faster than anywhere else.
4. Only take no. 1 if the apartment door and windows face away from the courthouse and your office. You do not want folks to look out the window to see if you are home, and as someone said above, you don't want defendants realizing where you live.
5. It is common for prosecutors to live outside their jurisdiction so as to avoid casual contact with defendants, etc., and mitigate the "public figure" aspect of the job. If apt. No. 2 is outside your jurisdiction, that is a plus. You have to weigh that against the time and energy cost of the commute.
6. Don't underestimate how much money you will save by not commuting. Also, don't underestimate how much money you need to spend on clothes for the job. I don't know your budget, but saving on the commute may give you the breathing room you need not to feel strapped and trapped by ongoing expenses.
7. Apt. No. 2 has great natural light, an open view, and enough space. These things are extremely valuable to me because they make me feel happier overall no matter my job. Is it possible for you to find an apartment with a 10 minute or less walking commute and great natural light and a little more space? That is the compromise I would seek.
These are just my thoughts. What really matters is how you weigh all these factors. Best wishes for success in you new job!
posted by KayQuestions at 7:53 PM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you for all your feedback! Despite the near consensus for #1, I very strongly considered #2 nevertheless, but I did end up going with #1. What helped was finding an organizing plan for the studio space in a way that was satisfying, as I really wasn't wanting to do a commute.
posted by TheLinenLenin at 1:49 PM on August 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

I feel bad for my response as I don't mean to say I was dismissive of everyone who said go with #1. It was definitely powerful to see how strong the response for #1 is, and it helped delay me from pulling the trigger on #2/trying to make #1 work.
posted by TheLinenLenin at 4:24 PM on August 17, 2019

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