What's the best place to move near NYC these days?
May 12, 2020 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I was laid off recently from a tech company in Boston, and I'm luckily looking at several job offers, mostly in the NYC midtown Manhattan area with relocation expected after the quarantine ends. I have no idea what the housing market is like these days within a reasonable commute. What are some towns/neighborhoods I should consider? How do I best plan finding a place when I may have months to plan rather than weeks? I appreciate not rushing but I also don't know how to use the extra time.

Details: I'm single and don't have kids, but I'm planning on moving with my current roommate.

My salary is going to be in the neighborhood of $150K before tax. I'm hoping for a two bedroom apartment, and I'll pay the entire rent. I'm not really considering owning a home or condo at this time but I have enough savings to handle deposits and broker's fees.

My roommate and I are good platonic friends and she'd like to move along with me, hence the second bedroom. She doesn't pay rent but does most of the cooking and cleaning, and I'm really happy with the arrangement. We're both trans (which I mention mainly for safety although I've only very rarely felt unsafe in the NYC area) and when I last lived in the area I'd used queer housing exchange facebook groups to network but ended up moving to places I found on Zillow. And I feel a little guilty about taking advantage of that now that I make a much higher salary now.

I'd like to aim for a commute that's under an hour long, maybe even 90 minutes if it's dramatically cheaper/nicer. I have a car and would kind of like to keep it but I'm okay with selling it if I can't keep a convenient parking spot, and I do not ever want to drive in Manhattan. Either way, the neighborhood should be walkable as well, since my roommate can't drive. I also have family and friends in NJ so having a car to see them would be really nice. However, uber and NJ Transit can fill that need.

I'm into the idea of commuting from NJ via the PATH train or maybe some other method, but I would also consider outer boroughs. I don't know much about what it's like to live in Newark or Jersey City these days but the train lines are really appealing.

Right now, I live in an apartment that's kind of beat up and poorly maintained in Somerville, MA. My lease is up in August and then becomes month-to-month so I don't see it being an issue. Rent is cheap ($1650/mo total with a parking spot) but heat is terribly expensive in the winter, and nothing gets repaired in under six weeks, and I don't think the repair folks my landlady eventually sends are accredited. It's gotten to the point I do most maintenance myself. So I'm drawn to the idea of an apartment managed by a property company even if it's a bit more expensive, but I've never really looked for a place like that.

And is there any good way to use the excess time I have to plan, even during a pandemic? I have a pretty generous relocation package with the offer I'm most likely to take, which should pay for the actual logistics of hiring movers and shipping boxes, but I appreciate tips on organizing a large interstate move and how to find a service for that.
posted by ikea_femme to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would be a little worried about the transit situation in the coming months (and do you feel comfortable commuting in a potentially crowded train?). I just mention that in case you'd consider biking, or even walking, to work. If you can't find a place in Manhattan, maybe something in Sunnyside, Queens would be a relatively short bike ride?
posted by pinochiette at 12:30 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]

I am going to me-mail you.
posted by hoyland at 12:33 PM on May 12

I have mixed feelings about going through it for actually renting places, but StreetEasy is a great site if you just want to see what you can afford. Just punch in the most you want to pay per month (supposedly the guideline is salary before tax ÷ 40, but I dunno if I believe that) and the number of bedrooms you want. At $150K there really shouldn't be too many neighborhoods you can't afford at all, especially if you're getting relocation paid for.
posted by Ampersand692 at 12:37 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]

What do you want out of a neighborhood? $3750/mo. won't get you the most exciting/nicest/newest 2-bed in Manhattan, but it'll probably get you there in duller neighborhoods.

In the present moment, I agree that there'd be a lot of value in being able to walk to work (and generally not being forced to rely on a transit/car for necessities--I'm a hardened MTA advocate, but I'd just as soon not take transit through the end of 2020, really). Midtown's not too cheap (or thrilling as a neighborhood) but the UES has more pockets of affordability than you might think. But a lot of it depends, again, on your priorities. If what you value is space for your money, or relatively recent construction, the outer boroughs or Jersey-on-the-PATH are more likely to yield what you want. You can get a 2-bed/2-bath on the water in relatively new, character-free Newport apartment complexes for that budget, I believe.
posted by praemunire at 1:09 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

The rule of thumb for "what can I afford on X salary" is to divide your annual pre-tax salary by 40. I just did that, and then came down a little bit for safety's sake - and got a figure of $3,500 per month for your rental budget. (your salary divided by 40 is actually $3,750 per month, but I wanted to give you some wiggle room.)

For a budget of $3,500 per month for a two-bedroom, you're actually doing really well for living in the city proper. In fact, I just did a search on StreetEasy for that budget, filtering for two bedroom apartments in Midtown itself, and still found you quite a few options.

For a 60-90 minute commute, that opens you up to almost all of Queens and Brooklyn, although - speaking as someone who used to commute from her current apartment to Midtown - if you can get away with walking to work, I'd seriously do that, or shorten your commute as much as possible.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:10 PM on May 12

I should clarify that this is a software job so I'll be able to work remote until their offices re-open, and that will probably delay my move as well. However, I'm pleased to see it's more possible than I assumed to live close enough to walk to work and I can see a lot of possible futures where office work is expected but herd immunity isn't really there yet.
posted by ikea_femme at 2:49 PM on May 12

My advice is to ask about the office having any plans for future relocation, before you decide. If they are in West Midtown now, but have plans to "look for" a smaller space, then being in Hell's Kitchen won't be great when the new place is down in FiDi. But yes, Manhattan is definitely doable on your budget. Especially if you and roommate are extremely compact and willing to get one of the fake 2 bedrooms that's really a one bed with a wall in the living room to make an "office."

Broker fees are no longer legal in NYC, but I'm sure there are lawyers working full time on figuring out how to get around that.

Also, if you're willing to sublet for a few months, you can get a feel for a neighborhood, but moving furniture makes that option harder.
posted by bilabial at 3:42 PM on May 12 [2 favorites]

FiDi is to put it lightly “fucking expensive.” I doubt you can get a two bedroom for your price. I’m going to go against the grain and say 150k is not a lot for take home. Maybe Kip’s Bay? My rent in FiDi tripled in like three years.
posted by geoff. at 7:34 PM on May 12

(OP thinks they'll be working in Midtown, not FiDi.)
posted by praemunire at 9:29 PM on May 12

On your salary I would search 2 bedrooms in the 2500-3000 range in Astoria, Sunnyside, and Jersey City Grove Street. The UES has also become surprisingly more affordable as more "trendy" neighborhoods have sprung up to compete with it over the years.

Broker fees are no longer legal in NYC, but I'm sure there are lawyers working full time on figuring out how to get around that.

I think that's on hold right now, at this time people are still paying broker fees as the real estate industry has put up a shit fit.
posted by windbox at 6:26 AM on May 13

Here is a wider perspective. I grew up in Bedminster, NJ (Yes, where Trump has since built a golf course). It's about 40 miles from Manhattan. For a few years, my father worked in the Time/LIfe Building. His commute worked like this: my mother drove him 1.5 miles to the train station. He took the train (now NJ Transit) to Hoboken, PATH to 34th street, the 7th Ave Subway to 49th street. Homeward bound was the reverse. Overall, it was about 7AM to 7PM.

As it happens I now live on the other side of NYC in Stamford, CT, about 30 miles from Manhattan. From here, the morning express commuter train to Grand Central takes 45 minutes, schedule time. Lots of famous people live a couple stops to the north in New Canaan. Train station parking can be difficult anywhere. Train fares seem high but are doable. The commute to mid-town is pretty easy, but Wall Street is a killer, not because it's so much longer as much as the subway downtown is so crowded and unpleasant.

Of course, there are similar situations on Long Island and in Westchester County, etc. I knew a guy who commuted by car from someplace west of the Tappan Zee bridge to Rector St by car.

The point of this is that the region from which people commute to NYC has a radius of about 40 miles and is home to maybe 50 million people. If your ideal Boston-area commute was anywhere inside 495, you can probably reproduce it while working in NYC,
posted by SemiSalt at 7:11 AM on May 13

Boy, this question is so hard to answer right now. A couple of things that make it particularly challenging:

First of all, the pandemic has changed all the calculations around New York real estate. Normally public transit is very important and we choose apartments based on their proximity to various subway lines, but right now no one wants to take public transit if they can avoid it. Some people who normally would not drive much are wishing they had cars because it’s a fairly safe way to move around, and having a car in NYC currently feels like freedom in a way it normally does not. At the same time, neighborhoods have become very important because our neighborhoods are our whole worlds right now—I’ve always been glad that I can walk to several well-stocked, affordable grocery stores in my neighborhood but I am SUPER EXTRA grateful right now. And having an apartment with outdoor space, even a fire escape with room for a chair, is an enormous asset during this time.

All that is kind of screwing with my ideas about how to recommend neighborhoods, and doubly so because it’s not clear how long the various elements of this will last. If you’ll be working in an office, then being able to walk there could be very important—so, it might be worth it to move to Midtown, even though Midtown is not normally the most fun place to live. But if you’ll be working from home, then having a more pleasant and spacious living space with room for a home office would be hugely helpful—so it would be better to get a place in Brooklyn or Queens, or possibly in NJ.

There are other tricky things about this question too: if you’re making 150K and willing to commute up to 90 minutes, you could honestly live almost anywhere. You won’t be able to get The Fanciest Apartment In Midtown on that salary, but you could certainly get AN apartment. And from almost any neighborhood you could get to Midtown in 90 minutes—Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, Roosevelt Island (on the tram!) and parts of NJ are all open to you.

You don’t mention how you want your neighborhood to feel, so I’m wondering if that could help you narrow it down. Like, how much do you care about trees? Do you want to be near a park? Will it bother you if your street is very noisy? Almost any neighborhood in NYC should (I hope!) feel reasonably safe for you as a trans person, but is it important to you to have an active trans or queer community in your neighborhood? That’s all stuff that could influence your decision.

Anyway sorry this is long and more of a meta-answer, but I think my biggest suggestions are:

1. It’s actually pretty hard to do this in advance at this particular moment, and you might want to wait and see what happens pandemic-wise. (However, I'll add that a number of people with kids have left the city to get more space now that they're home 24/7, and some of my friends are getting really excellent deals on their suddenly vacant apartments, so you may be able to work that to your advantage if you do move soon.)

2. You might want to think of your first place as somewhat temporary, and be open to moving again when we’ve got a better understanding of how life in the city will look longer-term.

3. I really, from current pandemic experience, suggest looking for a place with some kind of outdoor space if you possibly can—even if it's just a tiny sliver of outdoor space.
posted by Mender at 11:15 AM on May 13

At the same time, neighborhoods have become very important because our neighborhoods are our whole worlds right now—I’ve always been glad that I can walk to several well-stocked, affordable grocery stores in my neighborhood but I am SUPER EXTRA grateful right now.

This is so important I just want to echo it. I haven't been more than three miles from my apartment in any direction for nearly two months, and those were Extra Special Weekend Long Walks. On the average day, we're talking eight blocks or so. I'm very fortunate that most things I need, including a full-service if smaller and expensive supermarket, a butcher, and multiple bakers (or restaurant-become-bakers) fall within that radius. You really want to pick a place where you can walk to the services you need and which you enjoy the vibe of, because suddenly we're all cut off like the IRT had never been invented. Relatively easy in Manhattan (though be cautious in Midtown proper--it's not fundamentally a residential neighborhood). In less dense sections of the outer boroughs, might be harder. Most of the close-in PATH stations will at least have a cluster of services near the station. In Newark, you'd have to choose pretty carefully. The bonus, of course, is that this will contribute to your quality of life even once things get back to normal.
posted by praemunire at 2:01 PM on May 13

(By the way, depending on your exact income, as a two-person household, you might qualify for the ordinary top band of middle-income "affordable" lottery apartments (the 165% AMIs). Check out Housing Connect. Ordinarily it's hopeless for a non-NYC resident to try to snag one of these places, but the top band apartments tend to be easier to get because people with those incomes have more choices [I've literally gotten offers when my log number was in the 70000s]. Costs nothing to apply, and once you're in, there are no further income limits. These are usually new construction in "luxury" buildings, and while they may not be the best value in the neighborhood, they're usually the best value you can get for that rent.)
posted by praemunire at 2:58 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]

If you are at all considering commuting via bike, then nearby access to the westside bike path will be a big plus.

Also consider if the building has Verizon Fios, their fiber optic internet service. Many apartment buildings in Manhattan do not have infrastructure installed for Fios, which is disappointing. Spectrum cable internet is decent if you're working from home, but IMHO Fios is better.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:47 PM on May 13

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