My husband and I discussed moving to New York City during COVID a few months before finally making the commitment. Like any couple that lived through 2020, we had our fair share of concerns.
Based on what I was reading in the news, it seemed like NYC’s exodus was taken as an invitation for folks to leave. We had questions. Is the the city dead? If so, is the rental market less competitive? Are units more affordable than before? Etc.
We negotiated with a friend to stay at his place in the Upper East Side for one month while we did some research. Within two weeks of our arrival, we began our apartment search in earnest. Talk about learning curve!
Today I’d like to share the 10 biggest lessons we’ve learned so far for anyone planning to move to NYC during COVID.
As with anything in life, there’s never a perfect time to do something. Which paradoxically makes every decision slightly easier, why not move to New York City during COVID? If not now, when?
Moving to New York City (During COVID)
#1. The neighborhood matters more than you think
I know, understatement of the century, right?
But before I get flack, I’d like to point out that I am indeed aware of the importance of a neighborhood regardless of the city you move to. However, I didn’t understand the extent to which this is true in New York City until we started touring apartments in various neighborhoods.
Your budget will afford you drastically different living arrangements based on the neighborhood you choose. It was really eye-opening for us. For example, $2,200 will get you a decent one-bedroom in the Upper West Side and questionable living quarters (at best) in SOHO.
We toured a shoe-box of an apartment in SOHO –the light was non existent, the bathroom wall was half torn down, exposing a dusty pipe and the dead cockroach in the kitchen felt like he was sending a smug message from the afterlife, “try further north, honey.”
moving to NYC during COVID, moving to New York City during quarantine.
The dead cockroach in the kitchen felt like he was sending a smug message from the afterlife, “try further north, honey.”
Based on our experience, the Upper West Side (UWS) and Upper East Side (UES) seem more affordable than the highly coveted SOHO and Greenwich Village neighborhoods. I think the UWS/UES cater to families and imagine those are the folks that moved out in droves.
All this to say, do your research. What are you willing to sacrifice for location?
#2. It’s possible to score a deal
Patience is the name of the game.
As mentioned, we toured two great one-bedroom apartments in the Upper West Side within 2 blocks of Central Park that were listed for $2,200. One of those rentals dropped from $2,700 — a savings of $500 per month.
On top of the price reduction, many realtors are offering incentives that are unheard of for New York City — like 2 months free. I’ll cover this in more detail below.
These incentives make moving to New York City during COVID a unique opportunity. Especially if you can lock into a less expensive apartment now and keep renewing your lease at that rate.
#3. But warmer weather = higher competition
Now that the warmer spring and summer months are in full swing, incentives are dying down and prices and slowly increasing in tandem with demand.
Two days ago, we toured a one-bedroom apartment in Chelsea and found ourselves in line with 8+ other couples. The realtor mentioned that he received 100 inquires about the apartment within 24 hours. It’s the most action he’s noticed on an apartment in New York City during COVID.
Another realtor put it this way: Apartments were sitting vacant for months and landlords were desperate to rent. However, toward the tail-end of April, supply can’t keep up with demand. Folks are snatching up apartments within days, especially as the weather gets nicer.
Several realtors mentioned that they think prices will rebound by summer, as evidenced by the recent surge in demand. It doesn’t help that some landlords are choosing to hold apartments until prices return to normal (a practice known as “warehousing“).
Tip: We requested applications whenever we requested to tour an apartment. This ensured that we had all of our paperwork in order and could act swiftly if needed.
#4. Understanding net effective rent
About 80% of the apartments we saw offered generous incentives like a free month or two. But it’s very important to understand net effective rent.
Some landlords offer the free month at the beginning of the lease, others for the last month and others still on the third or seventh month. For example, if the unit is $2,000 per month + one month free, you will pay $2,000 per month and get the last month free (or whatever the agreement is).
Other landlords will spread the free month across the term of the lease. For example, if the unit is 2,000 per month + one month free, your net effective rent would come out to: $1,834. However, when your lease is up in a year, your rent will automatically bounce back to $2,000.
If you’re moving to New York City during COVID with a long term stay in mind, I suggest finding an apartment within your price range without the monthly incentive. We’ve seen $4,000/month apartments reduced to a net effective rent of $2,900 per month after incentives. Seems like a steal of a deal … until your lease it up and you have to move out because you can’t afford the $4,000.
#5. We have not dealt with any broker fees
New Yorkers understand the significance of broker fees like no one else. Folks that are new to New York City are always caught off guard by broker fees. What are they?
Broker fees are an infamous NYC practice where you must have a broker to secure an apartment. The broker’s fee? The equivalent of one months’ rent or 15% of the annual net rent.
We’re talking fees starting around $3,000! Steep. This nonnegotiable fee is in addition to a security deposit and one/two months rent. The costs add up quickly.
Broker fees are currently being litigated in court but until that gets resolved, you can expect to pay them, with the exception of renting an apartment during COVID times. But the broker we spoke with today mentioned that he is already starting to collect broker fees again, starting this week. So I’m not sure how much longer this will hold up, unfortunately.
Remember how I mentioned that one apartment was $500 less per month? Add on a savings of $2,200 for the broker fee and you’re already saving $8,200 compared to pre-COVID times.
#6. Don’t trust the photos
Seriously, believe me on this one. I can’t tell you how many times I walked into an apartment and found myself genuinely convinced I stepped into the wrong one.
We’re talking kitchens with different colored cabinets! I asked the realtor about the change and she mentioned that she used stock photos in the posting. Moral of the story? NEVER sign a lease sight unseen unless you like surprises…especially bad ones.
Think about it, we toured 9+ apartments and would have been severely disappointed if we signed a lease for any of them based on the photos.
To that end, once you tour a place and feel comfortable signing the lease, hiring movers in NYC is the next logical step.
#7. You can afford to be picky
Mold-free units went from being a preference pre-COVID to an actual option post-COVID.
What’s more, we’ve noticed that newer building are offering more generous incentives than older buildings. My understanding is that the “edge” newer buildings have (amenities such as pools, rooftop gathering places, etc.) aren’t a selling point during COVID times.
As such, you can negotiate better rates because the amenities no longer play a large role. On the reverse side, older buildings know that folks tend to prefer newer buildings, so you can use that to your advantage as well. One realtor told us we can ask for an updated oven, something that wouldn’t have happened pre-COVID.
But because you can afford to be pickier with your apartment search, you have the advantage to do thorough research on the buildings/neighborhood before committing. I can’t underestimate that perk enough!
#8. The application paperwork is insane
Not only is the application process incredibly intrusive, it varies from one realtor to the next. Some realtors ask for 2 years of tax records, three pays tubs, a letter of employment, a letter from a previous landlord, screenshot of savings/checking balances and certified letters from a CPA.
The reason? Most New York landlords require that your annual income exceeds 40 to 50 times the monthly rent. Absurd, right?
#9. Airing your dirty laundry
I mean this literally but if you took it figuratively, I’m intrigued.
It never occurred to me to ask about laundry prior to moving to New York City. It wasn’t until we stayed at our friend’s place for a month that I thought to ask about the laundry. The answer? Walk it to the nearest cleaners and pay them to wash and fold it for you.
One load averages $20-$30 per bag, which adds up quickly. Fingers crossed I can find a self-serve laundromat.
#10. People are kinder
By and large, New Yorkers are kinder. That’s not to say New Yorkers were unkind before. On the contrary, I liked the brevity New Yorkers are best known for. This people are living in the most exciting city on the world — they have places to be and dreams to conquer, there’s no time for small talk.
But New York City is oxymoronically isolating. COVID slowed us down and showed us how connected we are. As the city slowly wakes from this long slumber, the people seem to enjoy each other differently. I get hellos more often than before and even a compliment now and then.
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
I feel like moving to New York City during COVID aged me by five years. But honestly, I’m happier for it. I’m living in a dream and hope you can too.
Did I miss something? If so, let me know in the comments below and I’ll update the information for all to see.