The Newcomers

Why I moved to NYC from Pittsburgh: I craved big city life with lots of variety

  • Ethan Jan found the building he wanted in Long Island City but there were no units available
  • He connected with an agent who helped him lease a place before it came on the market
By Kelly Kreth  |
July 5, 2024 - 9:30AM
Ethan Jan Keller Williams NYC

NYC newcomer Ethan Jan negotiated a two-and-half-month rent concession during the winter, when leasing is slow.

Carnegie Mellon student Ethan Jan didn't find much to do in the Pittsburgh suburb where was living. So he decided to transfer to NYU and landed an apartment in Long Island City, where he has terrific views of Manhattan. Here’s his story as told to Kelly Kreth.

I was born and raised in Taipei. I was living in Pittsburgh prior to moving to New York City, in a dorm at Carnegie Mellon University where I was studying architecture.

The dorm rooms are tiny—around 200 square feet—and I shared the bathroom with another room. There was a lounge, gym, laundry room, and elevator. It’s around $5,500 per semester.

There really wasn’t anything I liked about living there. The dorm was in a suburban part of Pittsburgh called Squirrel Hill, with mostly single-family homes. There wasn’t much to do in the neighborhood; there were very few restaurants or places to shop and it was not very walkable. 

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series The Newcomers features first-person accounts about why a renter or buyer decided to take a chance on NYC.]

My favorite thing to do was to hang out with friends, and most of the time that meant eating out to avoid the horrible school food. One of my favorite places was Spirits & Tales, a restaurant on the top floor of The Oaklander Hotel. It’s very new and has delicious brunch and dinner options. The scallop risotto is by far the best. There’s a great view from the restaurant of the city and the historic Soldiers & Sailors Museum.

Downtown Pittsburgh is fun to explore. There’s a winter village next to the Tower at PNC Plaza where I went ice skating with friends. The Strip District, which has cool vintage stores, is the hippest neighborhood there. It used to be an industrial area and is slowly changing.

Why he wanted to move

My twin brother had already moved to NYC. We have completely different passions; he is studying finance. While I lived in Pittsburgh, I would come to NYC during vacations and my mom would travel from Taipei to join us. So I had a general sense about NYC, plus some friends from my high school in Taipei were students in NYC too.

In October 2022, I applied to transfer to NYU. I wanted to move because I wasn’t used to living in such a small city and I no longer wanted to pursue a career in architecture. I also wanted a direct commute to school.

My brother and I planned to live together, and it took me about three weeks to find our place after seeing about 10 apartments. It was a pretty straightforward search because it was winter, when leasing is slow. A building in Long Island City fit what I was looking for but there weren’t any available units at the time. On StreetEasy, I found contact info for an agent active in the building. They told me there was a unit coming to market soon, so I went to check it out and was able to lease it before it was on the market. I negotiated a two-and-a-half-month concession as well.

Our new place is a 750-square-foot one bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and a den/alcove. The rent is $4,000 and we split it. We picked this unit because of the den—there are other units in the building without the den asking the same rent. Last month we had a flex wall company add a wall so we can each have bedrooms. 

I don’t have a job and my parents do not live in the U.S., so I had to use an institutional guarantor—I used The Guarantors. The fee they charge is around one month's rent, so it’s a bit expensive.

What he likes about his new place

The building was built in 2016 and has lots of natural light. The unit has an open layout with a kitchen island and light, hardwood floors. There’s a gym, roof lounge, and roof deck, both of which have really awesome views of Manhattan.

The building is over 30 stories tall, but there are only two elevators, so it can be frustrating when one elevator is being used for a move or to collect trash.

What he thinks of the location

There’s a lot of construction in the neighborhood, but that’s offset by good transportation. The R, M, E, N, W, 7 trains are very close, which is convenient for the commute to Manhattan. It takes about 20 minutes to get to school.

I like how easily accessible most places are from Long Island City, thanks to all the subway lines. There are also plenty of buses and the ferry, but I stick with the subway. But I don’t like how the subway system is above ground here; it makes the neighborhood extremely loud.

My favorite place in Long Island City is Gantry Park, it’s a clean and fairly new park and has great views of Manhattan. My favorite place to eat is Red Sorghum, it’s a newly opened Chinese restaurant. I love going to Trader Joe’s in Long Island City or a supermarket called City Acres, which has many Asian food options.

Overall, there’s so much more to do in NYC compared with Pittsburgh. I love the variety, especially with food—there are so many options! You can never get tired of anything, and there’s always something new.

I am now a real estate agent at Keller Williams NYC and I am continuing to study at NYU, concentrating on real estate development.

Most of my friends are from NYU. My friends love my place—they are amazed by the views of Manhattan from Long Island City. I plan on staying here because it is convenient, comfortable, and I always get to experience something new.



Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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