Apartments in New York's Upper West Side. Picture: KATY CHANCE
Apartments in New York's Upper West Side. Picture: KATY CHANCE

New York — In pricey Manhattan, having a roommate or two is a traditional rite of passage. Now, as the city empties out and rents plummet in the Covid-19 era, even recent college graduates are finding they can afford to live solo.

Studio apartment rents are the lowest in nearly a decade, and the New York borough’s youngest workers are taking notice. Forced indoors by the pandemic, to cramped spaces once used only for sleeping and showering, entry-level renters are on the move to decouple.

“The line is completely erased when you have to work from home,” said Klaudia Czarnocka, who shared a two-bedroom unit with two friends in the East Village. “I was just going a little crazy.”

For months after the city’s offices shuttered in March, Czarnocka, a salesperson at a mutual fund firm, made client calls in the space carved out as her bedroom — just big enough to fit a desk, a dresser and a bed. One roommate lost his job and spent most of his time in the apartment with her. The other, a hospital employee, had routines that changed often. They all shared a bathroom.

Czarnocka started browsing listings in June and realised that a place of her own was within financial reach. She moved the following month to a fourth-floor studio in an Upper West Side walk-up. “I have a whole corner dedicated to my desk and work, and when I need to unplug and shut down for the day, I have my own living room — and my own bathroom,” she said.

In October, Manhattan studio rents tumbled 17% from a year earlier to a median of $2,245 — the lowest since 2011, data from appraiser Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman Real Estate show. Incentives such as free months and payment of brokers’ fees brought the median down even further, to $2,069.

“I honestly never thought I was going to be able to afford a studio or one-bedroom apartment until, maybe, my late 20s,” said Ines Montfajon, who’s relocating from a Greenwich Village share to a Lower East Side studio for about $100 more a month than she currently pays.

Montfajon negotiated the asking rent down to to $1,700, then when she said she’d rather pay $1,685, the landlord’s broker, eager to close the deal in lean times, personally paid her the difference for the entire 15-month lease, she said. “I didn’t spend that much time in my apartment pre-pandemic,” said Montfajon, who works at a PR firm. “Now I don’t feel as bad paying more for rent considering I’m in my apartment 24/7.”

‘No better time’

Lower costs mean starter tenants are more likely to qualify for apartments on their own, which generally require earnings of 40 times the monthly rent, said Matylda Pearson, the Corcoran Group broker who helped Czarnocka find a new place.

“If you wanted to live alone and couldn’t afford to, there’s no better time than now to go look for an apartment,” said Gary Malin, COO at Corcoran.

Roommates on the move are also trying their luck at luxury developments that may once have been out of reach — such as the Dime in Brooklyn, which opened for leasing in May. Studios at the Williamsburg tower are renting for an average of $2,228, after three free months are factored in, said Tanner McAuley, the building’s leasing director. Complimentary parking spots, normally a $200 monthly expense, are also being offered.

Studio inquiries have come from Manhattanites seeking homes of their own, he said.

At Manhattan Skyline, a management firm with 2,300 apartments, the bulk of what’s being leased are studios, said Carole Bloom, a senior vice-president. At least four of them this month were rented by existing tenants who once shared larger units but wanted to live alone.

For Morgan Baker a split was inevitable. The two college friends she shared a place with in Murray Hill weren’t ready to move back to the city after leaving in March for the lockdown. Baker, too, left for a time — to her family home in Atlanta — but returned in to Manhattan in August.

She didn’t have to look long or far for a new apartment. A studio in her old neighbourhood was available immediately, with three months free. “I probably wouldn’t have lived alone for a good handful of years,” she said. “This allowed me to jump-start that.”

Bloomberg

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