How can I move?
July 31, 2020 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I live in a tiny studio apartment in the Bay Area and have wanted to move for ages, but can't really afford something else nearby. The pandemic has *really* made me want to move even more. What should I do? Details inside.

My apartment is okay in some respects, but painfully small. Since the pandemic, it's become harder to bear being here because of the lack of privacy- I'm in a backyard studio and my neighbors, who were gone previously during the day, are now constantly in their backyard on the deck immediately adjacent to my windows (including their adorable but very loud toddlers). I have one small room and nowhere to go. The stress has started to impact my mental health. But, it's cheap. I'm torn between a few options and can't figure out what to do.

1. Moving out of the area: I was already planning to do this before the pandemic. I work remotely and have been looking at small, affordable houses in other states. Now, I'm worried about both the physical move because of the pandemic, and the possibility that the state I move to may be less able to handle future COVID surges, even though it's not going particularly well here either. I know that many people are leaving the Bay Area. I would have to fly. How ill advised is it to fly now, and to leave a place that is semi-reasonably responding to the pandemic?
2. Moving to a much more expensive apartment: I definitely didn't want to do this earlier, but I'm feeling more desperate for a private space now, and some outdoor space. I found a potential apartment that costs much more than I really want to pay (it's market rate for a studio here). It's well over half of my take-home pay, and a little more than 30% of my gross pay. I work in an industry that has been hard-hit by COVID, though my employer isn't currently planning layoffs. I'm also dealing with a health issue that could make it hard to work. But I do have savings that I could use if necessary. Does it make more sense to stay in the area, and just pay excessively?
3. Tiny house: Even though I want more space, I mostly want more privacy and some access to a garden. I could potentially buy a tiny house and temporarily put it in a relative's yard in a nearby city. This may be illegal without permits, but I think it's unlikely that the city would find out about it. After the pandemic, I could try to sell it, move it, or possibly convince my relative to let it stay and split the rent from someone else after getting it properly permitted. This option requires a little more legwork than I feel like I have the mental bandwidth to handle, but is technically possible.
4. Keep looking: I've been browsing the apartment listings since things shut down here in March. Prices have gone down a little, although definitely not to the level of my current apartment. It's possible that more things will continue opening up now. I'm near a university that cancelled fall classes, etc. Should I keep looking? My options are somewhat limited because I've been having trouble sleeping and want to find another cottage/tiny house without shared walls, etc.

Any advice welcome, thanks.
posted by pinochiette to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Can you do a combo of #1 and #4?

Moving to another state: you have at least four months of data to see how the state you are considering moving to has handled Covid-19 so far. As long as you take reasonable precautions during your flight and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, I think moving by flying is totally doable. Some cities are offering incentives to tech workers that are willing to relocate, like Tulsa, OK and Savannah, GA.

Keep looking: what is the rental season where you are, if any? This might impact your plan to find a new place that is just as affordable as you have now. I would be cautious about adding more expenses by moving to a more expensive apartment because I don't think we're seeing the full scope of the recession yet. Anything that you move to should be sustainable if you are laid off.

I realized that suddenly having noisy neighbors home all day is jarring - I'm experiencing it myself right now too. I have cheap earplugs for when I really need silence. I'm not sure if that would be a temporary solution for you?
posted by pumpkinlatte at 1:55 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Is moving somewhere in California but not in the Bay area an option? One of the not-glamorous areas? That won’t be as cheap as some places in other states but it will be an easier move during a pandemic and at least you can wait things out while being able to hear yourself think, and if you end up choosing to come back to the Bay in a year that will be easier too.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:10 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


You're living in one of the most expensive areas in the US, in an apartment you don't like, and you have the option to move to a much cheaper area while still keeping your job? I would already be gone if I were you.

Are you at high risk for COVID? If not, I wouldn't let worries about how other areas might be handling COVID or how safe it is to fly stop you from moving. Flying doesn't sound super dangerous. Here is an article discussing the risks. Even if a lot of people in the area you move to aren't doing a good job of taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID, you can take precautions yourself that will cut your personal risk a lot. And there are some parts of the country where COVID isn't a big deal right now. If the place you most want to live seems too high risk, you can rent a nice little house or apartment in a safer area for now, start banking those rent savings, and make a more permanent move later.
posted by Redstart at 2:57 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


I would wait to buy, whether a tiny house or house in another area. But I do think it makes sense to leave the Bay and move to an area where you can have a bit more privacy without paying a lot more. I think you should go to a place you think you might want to settle and rent a house or apartment there. Hold off on buying for a few reasons: there's a lot of economic instability right now that might impact your job so it's better to have more savings; buying a tiny house could lead to other/different problems with your relative or the city, and if you have to move from there quickly, that could be a tricky situation with a tiny house you own; and because if you move to a new area, it's better to rent for a while to get to know the area before committing money (what if you decide you don't like it there, for example?).

Since you are saying you'd have to fly, I'm guessing you don't have a car. If you're living in a walkable area well-served by transit, you might be surprised at how hard it is to find something similar in another town. Renting is a good way to learn the area without committing.

I wouldn't worry too much about how the state handles Covid, I think... but you'll want to look up what's going on in the specific community/town/city where you want to move. Are people wearing masks, for example, even if there's no state requirement for it?

Also, while your local university may be remote only for fall, there are likely going to be lots of students looking for apartments because students want to live near each other even if classes are online. In fact, if the university has closed campus housing, there might be even more students competing for apartments. I wouldn't count on a soft rental market in any case.

This could be a great way to try a new city where you're not quite ready to commit.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:13 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


You can get a 1500 square foot townhome in the Midwest for $1000 in cities large enough to have fiber internet, airports, Ikea's, etc. Everything will be smaller and worse that the bay area. You'll earn less money. There's less community. But it might be worth it.

Flying seemed pretty safe last time I flew. Everyone wore masks and the planes are pretty empty right now.

I would choose what you care about in life. Dating scene? Biking friendly? Good weather? Having a left leaking population? Low cost of living? And narrow down your cities from that. Someone better travelled than I can maybe tell you the biggest cheapest leftist bikist nicest weather youngest city to consider. I'll just say I'm enjoying Minneapolis, which has amazingly affordable and nice luxury apartments walking to 100s of cool bars and stores, is super left and young, but man it does get a little chilly in the winter :)
posted by bbqturtle at 5:19 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Standard bay area apartment advice: reach out to your friends and community and let them know you are looking.

I just left a rent controlled downtown Oakland studio apartment that I'd lived in for a decade to split a small house with a large garden with a friend nearby. Something I would never, ever have considered before covid - mostly because I thought it was impossible to get a better deal than my locked-in-rent-control. But after talking with the owner we negotiated rent down, signed a month-to-month lease instead of the 1 year standard lease, and I'm now paying $300 less than I was previously. And I can grow veggies!

Keep looking - lots of private landlords are willing to cut deals right now that would have been unthinkable. I would go that route instead of the property management companies if you want to stay in the bay.
posted by bradbane at 5:38 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Is there anyplace you can go where you can rent a room in a friend or relative’s house and save some money and make a plan? If it were me (and in some ways our situations are similar) I’d have left already. Check cheap sublets in parts of the country that you would like to be. Don’t sign on a lease or buy anything that’s more than you can afford. Check out cheapoldhouses on IG for ideas about what you could get in a house for not much money—assuming you have an interest in fixing something up.

Good luck!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:42 PM on July 31


I know of several people who have negotiated better deals on either their existing or new apartments in the Bay Area. If there's a place you love you might be able to make an offer. I would be wary of a new lease if you are not feeling very confident about your job situation.

It's hard to advise about the tiny house without knowing anything about the city. Hayward would be very different than Palo Alto, for example. Generally speaking many cities do not require permits for roofs smaller than 120 ft sq, and things on wheels are often allowed. It kind of depends on how annoyed neighbors might be about a tiny house- even if legal, they may make a stink. But a tiny house is something you can sell; rent just goes away. Something to consider.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:45 PM on July 31


Please don't move into an apartment that's half your take home pay. If I were you I would be looking for a small place in Mendo or Humbolt, places where covid has barely hit. Maybe Sebastapol? Literally anywhere else in NorCal outside the Bay will be cheaper, you'll have space and privacy, and you can navigate a farther move from there if you want, once your stress levels have gone down a bit.

If you've lived here for any amount of time I'm guessing you have some friends that have made similar moves, so ask them what they like and dislike about their town, maybe go for a drive through those areas and get a feel for what the vibe is.

Also re: the tiny house on a relative's property, the city may be slow on the uptake, but the neighbors certainly wont be. There is a high likelihood they will report you and you'll have to move at best or pay a hefty fine at worst.
posted by ananci at 8:01 AM on August 1


I'm in Minnesota and have been listening to Californians complain about how poorly your governor is handling the pandemic, so I'd say that if you're worried about moving to a place that it's worse, there are also places that it's going as well or better. If you can work from anywhere, I'd start asking yourself where you have community or have scenes you want to be a part of (this is obviously especially vital if you're part of a marginalized community, obviously), what kinds of weather you want or can deal with, whether it's important to you to live in a blue state (it is for me), whether you want to live in a city, suburb, or rural area, and start narrowing down what you actively want from there.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:35 AM on August 1


While you're figuring out what to do, try playing brown noise (like white noise but deeper) to block out the noise from your neighbors. There are very long tracks of it on YouTube and there's a "Brown Noise" Alexa skill.

My husband and I live in a tiny apartment in a noisy neighborhood and I've found that keeping brown noise running in the background nearly 24/7 significantly reduces my irritation level. I don't think I could tolerate living here without it.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:51 AM on August 2


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