More Space, Same Addressjuin 30, 2020
Until recently, Lisa Quach and her boyfriend shared a studio in Mercedes House, a zigzagging rental complex in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. And although they had dreamed of a larger place before the coronavirus pandemic, the 484-square-foot apartment certainly met their needs.
The studio “was exactly what we needed because we were not always home,” said Ms. Quach, 29. Pre-coronavirus, they both spent their days at offices — she is an accountant for a beauty and skin-care company, he is in finance — and they worked out at gyms.
Once the quarantine confined them to the apartment, however, the limitations of the space became apparent. They tried to make it work, arranging side-by-side desks and setting up an exercise area with a yoga mat and some weights on the floor between the bathroom and kitchen.
But when Ms. Quach’s boyfriend was on the phone, she sometimes had to retreat to the bathroom to make calls of her own. And she had trouble sleeping when he was up late lifting weights or working. Two nights in a row she didn’t sleep at all, she said.
That is why they just moved into a two-bedroom apartment in the same building. And although they will be paying $1,400 more per month for the 720-square-foot space, Ms. Quach, for one, feels it will be worth it.
“I’ll be able to get some rest,” she said.
The pandemic has racked up terrible losses, but for some it has also triggered unexpected gains — at least in the size of their apartments. Suddenly in need of spaces that can accommodate working as well as living, many people have been trading up to larger units. And with shelter-in-place rules restricting moving and new guidelines in place for in-person apartment tours, many are doing so at their existing addresses.
It is not clear how many tenants are playing this game of musical apartments. And it is also true that scaling up is likely only occurring at the middle and upper end of the rental market, where tenants may not be suffering from the economic hardships that have forced some workers into the ranks of the unemployed. In fact, on the low end of the rental market, some tenants may well be scaling down.
But for landlords, the upgrades are a bright spot in an uncertain rental housing picture that includes more apartment vacancies and fewer lease signings. And for tenants who can afford to pay more each month, switching to a larger apartment in a familiar building can be a simple, convenient fix to a pandemic-induced space pinch.
With new apartments only an elevator ride away — or even just a walk down the hall — many tenants are finding they don’t need to hire movers. Instead, they are simply carrying their belongings to their new homes themselves.
Moving in any manner wasn’t something, Maria Liesen, 26, and Giacomo Novelli, 25, ever expected to be doing so soon. After all, they had only taken up residence in a one-bedroom apartment at 525 West 52nd, also in Hell’s Kitchen, in September.
Recent transplants from Chicago, they had still been exploring New York’s museums and cocktail bars when the coronavirus hit. Their place had felt plenty big when they had the whole city at their feet, but “the world got a lot smaller when we had to stay indoors,” said Mr. Novelli, who works at a trading firm.
At first, he set up two of his big trading monitors on a card table in the living room. Ms. Liesen, a tech program manager at Amazon, would go back and forth between the sofa and the bedroom floor with her laptop and phone. But Mr. Novelli has a booming voice that’s inescapable, said Ms. Liesen, even if she is in another room.
“I would hear: ‘Buy! Sell!’ ” she said.
Realizing the pandemic could go on for many months, they decided they needed a long-term solution that would provide more separation during the workday. Mr. Novelli called the building’s leasing agent and asked whether any two-bedroom units were available. At first there was only one. Then there were three. In the end the couple selected an apartment on a higher floor, with higher ceilings and an expansive south-facing view.
All that, and they pay only about $200 more per month, Mr. Novelli said, because he entered rent discussions with a firm price in mind.
“The supply and demand factors were in our favor,” he said.
Couples aren’t the only tenants who have been trading up. Families with school-age children have sought larger apartments so that the parents can work while their children are busy with remote learning. Some empty-nester tenants who downsized when their children went off to college found they suddenly needed to upsize again after colleges shut down and sent students home.
Adam Marcus, senior community manager at Harbor Landing in Glen Cove, on the North Shore of Long Island, has multiple families that fit that description in a 177-unit building. A father with a son in college swapped a studio for a one-bedroom with a den when his son was sent home, for instance. A couple in a one-bedroom with two children in college “came to us pretty frantic” when they learned their college children were going to be joining them, Mr. Marcus said.
Within 72 hours, he had transferred them to a three-bedroom unit. Not that he was complaining: “It’s very beneficial if you’ve got someone going from $2,700 to $4,100,” he said.
But in many buildings, tenants are seeking to use extra bedrooms for work spaces as company offices remain closed and work-from-home policies prove durable. Laura Sogar and Matthew Broussard, who had been renting a one-bedroom apartment at 300 Ashland in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, sought an extra bedroom for a home office and more.
They had considered trading up before the pandemic, but there had been no urgency. Ms. Sogar, 29, who works in sales for a cybersecurity company after a career as a professional swimmer, tended to be up and out of the apartment early to meet with clients. Mr. Broussard, 32, a comedian, was often out of town on tours. When he was in the city he worked nights doing standup gigs; he would come home late, crash and sleep in.
Holed up together during the quarantine, they stuck to the same general schedule, with Ms. Sogar working in the kitchen in the morning while Mr. Broussard slept. When he got up, they would “do a little rotation,” as she put it, and she would head to the bedroom.
They were managing. Still, when she was on a video call with a client, he had to tiptoe around; when he was making a podcast or doing an interview, she had to be quiet.
Mr. Broussard thought about renting a podcast studio, and Ms. Sogar considered a co-working space. But when a two-bedroom unit opened up two doors down, they jumped at the chance to consolidate into one place. They pay 25 percent more per month.
Currently, the extra bedroom is a home office and a workout space. Someday it will also function as a guest room and a podcast studio.
Ms. Sogar herself is a budding comedian, and the couple has a podcast in which Mr. Broussard tries to show her the ropes. It’s called She Does Standup Too?
They plan to set up cameras on tripods in the extra room so they can add a video to their podcasts. But even now, the room is serving them well.
The other day Mr. Broussard was in there doing a voice-over for a cartoon, while Ms. Sogar was recording a podcast in their bedroom.
“That would have been impossible in the old place,” Mr. Broussard said.