The Cost of Big City Dreams
Putting a price on life in the largest city in the United States.
by Cailin Loesch
In December 2014, Miranda Gruss was a recent graduate of a filmmaking program in Pittsburgh, with aspirations of growing her career as an onscreen actress. Recently cast in a recurring television role, Gruss was on her way up, but the next step was critical: finding a place to call home in New York, the city that she hoped to build her future in. After using New Jersey as a stepping stone, Gruss was able to make the move to Brooklyn in November 2017, a process that she admitted was an “intense couple of weeks.”
“My best friend and I were planning on moving in together, but getting a two-bedroom was out of our price range of $2,500-3,000 a month,” said Gruss. “So we had to add a third roommate to help balance cost.”
In the end, the trio settled on an apartment in Bushwick for the cost of $2,650 per month—a rent they split amongst themselves into monthly payments of $850 for each of the smaller bedrooms, and $950 for the larger bedroom and closet.
But even after the stress of finding a roommate settled, Gruss, like many others who are on the hunt for a New York City apartment for the first time, found that finding success often means investing in more than the cost of the apartment itself.
“Through the website Nooklyn, we found a broker who we liked and he helped us find several apartments that we liked and also matched our budget,” explained Gruss. “We did have to pay a broker’s fee, which was the cost of about a month’s rent, but it was worth it because they have access to many more listings than you’d find going to websites on your own.”
It may all sound complicated, but as a young woman living in the age of smartphone apps and countless competing websites, Gruss has an advantage over first-time renters from even just a couple of years before her, like Rob Howard, a 32-year-old from Hicksville who also moved to NYC looking for a career in film and television.
“When I found my apartment in 2012, I didn’t have an iPhone and I didn’t use any apps. I searched online for NYC apartments, which led me to RentHop,” said Howard. “I had some money when I moved, so I was seeking my own place (studio or one bedroom). You typically need an agent when seeking your own place, unless you know a building superintendent personally and can bypass that process.”
Acknowledging that most recent college grads “probably don’t have a ton of money,” Howard added that people who are seeking a room in a “multi-bedroom place with roommates” might use websites like Craigslist and Roomi, or Facebook groups like Gypsy Housing, which has about 200,000 members.
Howard describes Gypsy Housing, which Gruss also used on her own hunt, as a site that people use to “put their rooms or apartments up for rent when they travel or go away for work for a period of time,” he added that it is “like Airbnb except you don’t have to worry about fees and filling out forms.”
Once you have finally found your dream apartment, what comes next? According to Wesley Miller, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at Bohemia Realty Group in NYC, costs start adding up before you will even be able to call your new apartment home.
“Renters can expect to pay $100 in application fees per person, as well as the cost of one month’s rent, and one month security deposit—which can be upwards of $3,000— at the time they sign the lease,” said Miller. However, just as there are more apps and websites than ever to help with apartment hunting, there are also more online tools to help cut costs.
“There are multiple companies, including one called Rhino Protection, that will actually ensure the apartment on your behalf,” added Miller. “If you pay a monthly premium [of around $15] to this company, you don’t have to pay a security deposit to the homeowner of the building.”
Of course, the costs do not end there; though according to Miller, utility fees are more “reasonable” than some might expect.
“Obviously, it’s going to depend on how often you run your air conditioning in the summertime, and how often you leave your lights on, but the cost of utilities is not really a big percentage of what you’re spending,” said Wesley. “For a two-bedroom apartment, you’re probably looking at a hundred bucks a month—and that’s including electricity, gas, WiFi, and cable.”
If you ask a few residents whether the hassle was worth the payoff, the answer is often a resounding yes. Now that she has had a few years to settle into city life, Gruss says that despite the cost of living in the city, she would not want it any other way.
“It’s worth it because of the access I have, the events I get to go to, and the opportunity,” she said.
After all, you cannot put a price on a small-town girl’s dream come true.
“When I finally moved to Brooklyn, I felt so energized,” concluded Gruss. “It was like a missing piece clicked into place. The city can absolutely be draining, but I feel like my best self here. I still walk around and go, ‘I can’t believe I get to live here.’”