A tale of two roommates: After a year in the city, one is leaving, the other staying—here's why
Among the many recent college graduates who moved to New York City after graduation last year were Erin Monahan and Tess Ehrlich, both members of the University of Vermont's Class of 2016. Monahan, who is originally from the Boston area, and Ehrlich, who hails from North Jersey's Essex County, were roommates in college and decided to look for an apartment together on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. (Ehrlich works for a bank and has to be in Westchester more than half of the week, so proximity to Metro-North was important.)
With Ehrlich more familiar with New York, she did the majority of apartment searching online, but the two only saw two apartments together in person.
They worked with a broker and ended up renting a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a no-frills walk-up building on 93rd and First Avenue. The bathroom is small, the kitchen recently renovated, and the living space a "decent size," according to Monahan. The rent is $2,900, which they split evenly.
Fast forward one year and now Monahan (pictured above at left) plans to return to Vermont when her lease is up, while Ehrlich (above, right) will stay, with a new roommate moving in to the her apartment. We caught up with both women to discuss their first year in the Big Apple, from two very different perspectives.
The apartment search
The two women were in a rush when they rented their apartment. Ehrlich didn't want to have to commute from her parents' house in Westchester to New Jersey. They ended up signing a lease starting on August 1, which dictated a mid-summer search, a frenzied time in NYC real estate—you're competing with a lot of other newcomers who are looking to get settled post-graduation and before work starts, as well as families moving in before the schoolyear begins.
"I got an apartment and a job within a day. I couldn't believe it, but it’s possible here," says Monahan, who works as a legal assistant at a corporate law firm.
Looking back on it, Monahan says she regrets paying a month's rent for a broker fee, but since they wanted to move quickly, and they didn't have the luxury of looking for a bunch of no-fee places on their own. (Their parents had to sign on as guarantors.) "Since I've started work, I’ve met a lot of people who've been here for so long and say not to [go the broker route]," she says. "But it was all sort of rushed."
What they've loved
Being from the suburbs of Boston, Monahan says she worried she'd be overwhelmed and have trouble navigating the city. "I really hadn't been here much before, but you get the hang of it quickly and you get your bearings much quicker than you think," she says.
The opening of the Q train also made her commute to work really quick and easy.
For Ehrlich, the draw of the city is largely social. "All my friends are here, there's so much to do, and so many young people. It’s super-easy to get out of the city, too. You can just go to the beach for the day on the train," she says.
What they're not so crazy about
Monahan says it's been a challenge to adjust to such an indoor lifestyle, and unlike her roommate, she hasn't found it that easy to escape the city. "I’ve really missed being outside a lot," she says. "There’s a lot of freedom because everything is at your fingertips, but there's also a level of restriction in not being able to hop in your car and go whereever you want," she says.
"Socially, it can be challenging, too. You’re not going to see friendly faces when you go to a bar the way you do in college. Here, you have to gather your group first and then go somewhere. It's different in a small town or any college town."
For Ehrlich, it's the lack of personal space, that's been burdensome: "It's different than living in the suburbs where you have your own space. At school, I could go on a hike to be alone, now I need to go into my apartment if I want some quiet time."
"Such a high percentage of my salary goes to rent," says Monahan (a sentiment that most New Yorkers feel). She even took on a second job at a yoga studio a few hours a week to make the burden of paying rent less onerous. "I like to be busy, and I really don't like having to worry about money all the time," she says.
Maybe it's because she's from the New York area, but Ehrlich says though the city is expensive, she's found her rent and NYC expenses to be less of an albatross than she expected. "I knew it was going to be expensive, but I thought it would be harder to manage. While I was in school in Vermont I heard all these crazy numbers for rent and I couldn't imagine paying them, but it's all relative here. And you make more here, too."
Both women liked their choice of the Upper East Side, but for different reasons. "The Upper East Side is convenient with the new subway, and socially it's great. Second Avenue is awesome and busy, but at night, the neighborhood isn't crazy loud, and I can sleep with my windows open and actually fall asleep," says Monahan.
Ehrlich says she'd prefer to live in the Financial District if she didn't have to be near the 125th Street stop for Metro-North. "I think it's slightly more lively on the weekends than the Upper East Side, but still has a residential feel. It's also easy to get to most parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn that I would travel to and the closest area in Manhattan to my parents in New Jersey," she says.
Advice for the Class of 2017
With her time in New York City drawing to a close (she'll move back to Vermont and start a new job at an environmental compliance company soon), Monahan says: "In hindsight I wish I’d taken advantage of what the city has to offer—the museums and plays. I got bogged down by work."
Ehrlich says she'd recommend that others look at many apartments before they accept one ("we probably could have done better if we'd looked at more apartments," she says), and she also warns against moving here alone—or living alone. "I could never move to the city alone," she says. "I don't think it's sustainable for someone who's coming out college, when you were so used to being around a lot of people all the time."
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