I first moved to New York with a little over two grand in my pocket, an unpaid internship lined up and a room in a small efficiency deep in the heart of Queens. I was 22, a recent college graduate; a woman with a dream, and had no idea what the hell I was doing.
Flash forward three years and thousands of dollars worth of coffee cups later, I’m happy to call New York City home, creating a lifestyle I’ve only ever dreamed of. My life is less than perfect; filled with many ups and downs, adventures and missteps, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, maybe a bigger apartment. A lot of people ask me how to move to New York City or how I moved here. Moving is the easy part, finding your footing is a little bit trickier. I’ve been told it takes about 5 years to fully acclimate to the city, so I wanted to share some of my experiences and tips I learned (so hopefully you don’t have to).
How to Move to New York City: Save As Much as You Can
When I first decided to move to New York (for an unpaid internship, no less) I knew I had to save like crazy in order to make a semi-smooth transition. I worked two jobs (one full-time, one part-time) to live post-college while simultaneously saving for my move. It was beyond exhausting; I barely had days off and some days worked both jobs on the same day (which may have sparked my hatred for shopping malls).
I used one job to specifically pay my bills and live in Tampa while the other was to save for New York City. When I finally had enough (although you never really do), I quit my job, set a date, and bought a one-way ticket!
The Hell That Is Apartment Hunting.
As I landed in the third world country that is LaGuardia Airport, I distinctly remember hearing Taylor Swifts “Welcome to New York.” It was a crisp, late-Summer day and I couldn’t believe I found a small bedroom for $700/month. That is until I arrived and my “magical” small bedroom was a small room with no closet on the top floor of a house in Elmhurst, Queens. I lived with 7 other people and shared one bathroom. I didn’t mind it so much as I knew it was temporary. Eventually, I moved in with my brother and a friend into a beautiful three-bedroom, two-bathroom multi-family apartment bordering Woodside/Astoria. It would be my home for about one-and-a-half years, a real gem that one.
Five boroughs and three apartments later, there are a few lessons I’ve learned when it comes to apartment hunting in New York City. BrickUnderground wrote two great articles – one for graduates and one for those who need a crash course – on how to find an apartment when moving to NYC.
I’ve compiled my own small list from my very personal (and horrific) experiences.
- Always read, copy and sign your lease agreement. But seriously, read it! It’s so important, especially as tenant to know your rights, how much you pay compared to everyone else, what you’re responsible for and if you’re going to get your deposit back. Make sure everyone who is living with you has also read and signed all important documents. It’s vital you’re all on the same page.
- Always background check whoever you let sub-lease or move into your apartment. I had this one girl who I met through Craigslist move into an extra bedroom in my apartment when my brother moved back to Florida and my old roommate moved in with her boyfriend. She seemed perfectly nice, but I had this weird feeling about her. I knew I should’ve followed my gut instinct when I was locked in my room frantically calling the police after she threatened to hit me, for the second time. This was all after she refused to pay rent or utilities on time (or at all) either.The point of my very quick example is to background check whoever you decide bring into your home. You never really know when you meet someone online and to be honest, people lie. There are so many people I’ve met with similar stories, have had their belongings thrown out, stolen or come back to find them gone and a whole rent to pay. Your landlord should also always be aware of who is living in your apartment. When push comes to shove in a court of law, this can benefit you tremendously.
- Draw up a roommate contract. One of the hardest parts about living with roommates is when you don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s important to not only speak about how you each want to live in your home, but how you want to interact with each other. When I say this should be put in writing, I don’t say it as a way to be mean, but more of a cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t.It’s so easy for someone you live with to say things were never discussed or since they hardly stay at the apartment they don’t have to pay for certain things or even clean up after themselves. Drawing up your own personal roommate contract helps ease those awkward conversations while holding all parties accountable. It’s an awkward conversation, but it can save a lot of agony (and money on movers) later.
- Living with couples is never a good idea. Ultimately, the couple situation stems down to privacy and space. New York living is already an overcrowded situation and it’s so easy to find yourself living with an unbeknownst third or sometimes fourth roommate. I say this from not one, not two, but four roommate experiences where le boyfriend is involved. I will be the first one to say I do not, in any way, agree or enjoy living with couples and it’s all a relative gray area. If you’re roommate has a significant other, you should be respectful of the fact they will be staying over every now and then. On the flip side, you’re roommates should also be mindful it is your home as well and sometimes guests (no matter how frequent or respectful) are not wanted 7 days a week.When I lived in Astoria, I made the very naïve mistake of letting my roommates boyfriend move in with us. He was a seemingly nice guy and it would lower our cost of rent, which to be honest, I desperately needed. Long story short it was uncomfortable. If they fought you were put into their fights, if they wanted to be affectionate you were around that to, and if you wanted to have house meetings you are almost always outnumbered every time. What’s worse is it really drove a wedge between my friend and I to the point we don’t speak now. Moreover, you’ll feel both a lack of privacy and that you’re being an intrusion all at the same time.
- Yes, you will hear your neighbors. And they will hear you! I know way too much about my next door neighbor whom I’ve never met. I know one of my neighbors does her scales every afternoon after 6pm and another neighbor loves Otis Redding. If living in close proximity to others bothers you or you’re someone who is extremely private, New York living may not a huge adjustment.
Jobs and Income
I came to New York with an unpaid internship at a fashion PR firm in Midtown. I thought I’d do so well in my internship that they’d have to hire me! I quickly learned the fashion industry doesn’t always play so nice and most jobs will take free labor over a salary employee when they can. After three successful (and still unpaid internships) I finally landed my first paying job as a publicist, however, it was not an experience I wish to ever have again. When I finally quit, I was so overwhelmed with my past job I didn’t know if I had made the right choice. Many people move to New York City to make lifelong careers and I’m no exception.
As I reached my year mark at my current job, I realized there were a few things I wish I had known when trying to launch my career.
- Know your value, even as an intern. We all started somewhere and interns play a vital role in every industry. Advocate to learn as much as possible, the whole point of an internship is to learn. If you’re internship is unpaid, there are still ways you can ask to be compensated such as having the company cover your transportation or food costs. Remember, even the smallest cog in the machine still has a function.
- Know your value, even as a junior-level employee. After your internship, you will more than likely start off at an entry or junior level. Don’t let your title dictate your worth or where you stand in the company. Lean in, share your ideas, show you care and want to grow. Trust me when I say your employers will take notice.
- Don’t be afraid to switch careers. I first moved here thinking I’d work in the fashion industry. Two years in I realized I hated almost everything about it. I switched from fashion PR to real estate PR and I couldn’t love my job any more! If you stay where you are because you think this is what you always wanted, you’ll never grow. Let yourself find new passions and a new place where you may fit in.
- Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. Corny, I know, but valid! Almost everyone moves to NYC to follow their passions, don’t give up on them! If I gave up on my dreams, I wouldn’t be up right now after a long day of work writing a post that I hope inspires you to go after what you’ve always wanted. Pull those late nights, work those weekends, realize if it’s something you really love it will work out to your benefit.
A Good Support System
When I first moved to New York the one thing I really wish someone had told me was how lonely it could be. In a city filled with literally millions of people, you can feel overwhelmed and alone. It’s easy to get trapped into the hype, loneliness and anxiety the city may bring, but developing strong, wonderful relationships with friends and family is key.
I don’t know if I would still be in NYC if it wasn’t for the support of the people who truly love and know me. There will be people who enter and leave your life and you won’t be exactly sure why. Just remember you’re exactly where you’re meant to be with you you’re meant to be with.
The reality is, moving anywhere is tough, but New York can be unforgiving. There’s a lot of things I wish I didn’t have to learn the hard way, a lot of people I wish were still in my life, but I wake up so honored and blessed to be where I am. I am living the life I dreamed – sure, it’s not perfect and could always be better, but how many people can say that?
If you’re contemplating moving to NYC, do it! Take that plunge and know you’ll open yourself to new experiences, new adventures and even, if you’re lucky, a whole new you.
Until next time.