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Living in a rural town of 6,000 people near Rochester, NY—with just two stoplights—Erin O’Toole found herself longing for more. She had romanticized living in NYC since she was a kid, and had a lot of friends already living here, so when rents dropped during the pandemic, she jumped at the chance to be closer to them. Here’s her story.
I had lived in the Rochester area my whole life, minus my four years at college. I went to SUNY Oswego, which was only an hour and a half away. I am originally from Hilton, which is a small farm town of about 6,000 people. I have always appreciated growing up in a small town but really wanted to get out and try something different.
I was living with my parents in my childhood home, a big farmhouse on a half-acre of land. Our main street is about four buildings with just two stoplights. It is very rural and takes about 20 minutes to get to see any real stores.
[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 and live here now. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
While living with my parents I didn't pay for anything. The only real expense I had was paying for my monthly spin class membership. For fun I would work out, go on walks, go on my parents’ boat when it was nice and hang out with my siblings and cousins.
While all that was nice, I’ve always wanted to move to NYC. I romanticized from movies and TV. I love the idea of always having something to do and the convenience of everything being a few steps away. And most of my friends from college were from the city or the outskirts, and I wanted to live near them again!
During the pandemic I felt pretty low, as if my life was being wasted while I was working remotely in my parents’ living room. I would Facetime my friends in the city every day, and I just knew I had to be around them and their energy. The real turning point was when I visited my best friend for Halloween. Everyone says the city is dead but after visiting, I would have to disagree. There were a ton of people—walking their dogs, shopping, eating outside. I think the media painted the picture that NYC was a ghost town but compared to my rural upbringing it was the exact opposite.
I started looking on StreetEasy after the new year and wasn’t too sure of what I was looking for. I found a couple places but wasn’t ready to rent anything. One of my friends sent me a listing for a similar apartment to hers and I reached out to the agent, Soraya Selles of Bond New York, and we chatted about my timeline, budget, ideal neighborhood, and the amenities I valued.
I wasn't sure what my budget was when starting my search. I was just looking for the lowest rent possible. I learned my annual rent should be 40 percent of my gross income so that opened up way more options for me. I wanted to stay around the $1,400 price range but was willing to go higher if I really loved the place.
Soraya said she had a few appropriate apartments available, and we set up a virtual tour to see them all. While I looked at each apartment, I fell in love with mine immediately. It sounds silly but I was obsessed with how clean the walls looked and how the floors were shining, I knew that I had to get that apartment!
The next day I applied for it and the day after I signed my lease. It went by so fast, but I am so happy with what I got. Soraya also helped me out by getting me one month free rent, no broker’s fee, and the ability to make net-effective payments! My budget was important to me because I was keeping my remote job in Rochester, where I work for a small media company in marketing and sales and the lower payments made the most sense for me so I didn’t need a guarantor. My apartment was $1,550 but I got one month free and could pay net effective rent of $1,420 that really pushed me over the edge to sign. It was too perfect.
I now live in a studio on the Upper East Side on the fourth floor of a walkup building with just 20 units. It has an open kitchen and a nice-sized bathroom. My building is somewhat small, but I think it’s pretty normal compared to the other buildings on my street. The neighborhood is very residential. I am not disturbed by noise at all and love the convenience of all the shops and restaurants around. And seeing all the cute dogs is so great!
I think other neighborhoods would have been too much of a culture shock. The UES was a great introduction into moving to NYC. It is easy to navigate because of the street numbers and I love taking the Q train! I moved on March 1st. I picked March because I wanted to move sooner rather than later. I wanted to get to the city as the weather got warmer, more people got vaccinated, and things started to reopen. I feel like the city is going to have a big comeback this summer and I didn't want to get stuck learning how to take the train or being lost. When things start to reopen, I want to be ready to have all the fun!
Something I miss is the comfort of Rochester. I knew where I was going and how to go about my routine. I have only been in the city for about a few weeks, and I am not completely settled just yet. I still have to get used to public transportation and using a laundromat. In Rochester, I had a car and loved driving around when I was bored and listening to music. I felt much more in control. I had laundry in my own house.
However, it’s a joy to be in the middle of everything. NYC is so much better when it comes to food/entertainment/social life than Rochester. There is a ton of diversity in all things. Every day I experience things I never have before. It really amazes me how many things can be packed into one place. I don’t think I will ever be bored again.
My favorite deli right now is Milano's on 89th. I've been trying to pick a different restaurant every time I go out to eat, but there is a grocery store (C-town) right around the corner that I go to a lot for eating at home. There are just so many different kinds of foods and cultures at my fingertips. In Rochester I had access to a diner, Italian restaurant, and a Mexican eatery. In NYC I can try Indian food, Korean food, craft cocktails, sushi—really anything you can think of is available.
I also miss the open space of Rochester, but when I miss nature now, I just go to Central Park and enjoy being outside.
I haven’t had to make new friends just yet but I already had so many living in the city already. It’s more of figuring out when do I have time to see them all. I don’t know how I would adjust if I didn’t already have such a great group here already. My friends that have seen my apartment love it. They were really impressed with the size and location and how I have it set up and decorated. My family will eventually visit but are giving me time to get acclimated before heading here. I am sure they will love it as much as I do.
I am planning on staying in Manhattan. I think we all hit our rock bottom during the pandemic, and I think we can only go up from here. I don’t plan on wasting any more time or missing anything going on in the city. I am ready to see NYC’s comeback and be a part of it.
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