US

I tried leaving NYC for the suburbs, but the UWS prevailed

I tried leaving NYC for the suburbs, but the UWS prevailed

You’re moving to New Jersey?!!” wrote a friend on a Facebook Maplewood mom’s group I’d just joined. I knew what she meant: I wasn’t exactly the suburban-mom type, shuttling my kid to soccer and caring for a big house and a yard. I was a city girl (didn’t matter which one — I’d lived in NYC, LA, DC and Tel Aviv), a journalist racing around to find interesting stories and promote my latest book.

But after four months of lockdown last spring in a two-bedroom South Harlem apartment, as my husband and I tried working from home while coercing our preschooler onto her Zoom classes — I finally got on board with my spouse, who’d always wanted to try out the ’burbs.

Like the thousands of families exiting the city during COVID-19, we started our search. But where? New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester all seemed the same to me: lands distant from family and friends, places to visit for a day, a weekend, maybe, but always to return to the hubbub of The Big Apple. Even a subdued one.

Because we had friends there, we chose Maplewood/South Orange (which I soon learned is called SOMA), populated by artists and hipsters and other non-typical “suburbia” types, who are seeking more space at a semi-affordable price.

And so, in July, every time my real-estate agent beckoned, I raced 50 minutes to Essex County, feeling like a doctor on call but arriving too late.

Every time I saw a twee IKEA-style Craftsman that made me feel like I stepped into the catalog, or a majestic white colonial with a wraparound porch where I could write my next book, they had bids on them before I could even consider putting in an offer (with help from our families).

Thousands of families fleed the city during the COVID epidemic with the same destination in mind, the surrounding suburbs.
Thousands of families fled the city during the COVID epidemic with the same destination in mind — the surrounding suburbs.
Matthew McDermott

Turns out half of Park Slope and the Upper West Side had the same destination in mind — and they were outbidding us by 20 percent, often waiving inspection fees or offering all-cash deals. So we expanded our search to towns like Montclair and West Orange, where it seemed like every few blocks there was a new school district with its own plans for reopening.

“Millburn has a great plan!” my agent said, explaining it was two hours of in-person public school and two hours on Zoom.

Great? With my daughter entering kindergarten, and her private Jewish school in the city planning on reopening, I started to reconsider these hasty plans to leave.

“I don’t think you really want to move to the suburbs,” said my friend, a therapist.

I knew in my heart he was right. But I also knew my husband was right — we couldn’t face another winter lockdown in a two-bedroom apartment. So I unsubscribed from Zillow, downloaded the StreetEasy app, and set a filter for a three-bedroom with outdoor space for around $3,500 a month — without the killer 1 month broker’s fee.

With a record 16,000 apartments sitting vacant, and 37 percent of New Yorkers earning more than $100,000 saying it was “somewhat likely” they’d leave the city in the next two years, I was hoping to finally afford a big new apartment. We were paying $2,600 — a steal for pre-COVID New York — but our landlord refused to lower the rent like other landlords, despite an increasing number of vacancies in our building.

Author Amy Klein found her perfect COVID getaway, a garden apartment in South Harlem.
Author Amy Klein found her perfect COVID getaway, a garden apartment in South Harlem.
J.C.Rice for NY Post

In upper Manhattan — Washington and Morningside Heights, South Harlem and the Upper West Side — I saw abodes that would have been previously out of our price range: a four-bedroom next door to my sister in the Heights for $3,600, a three-bed-bath duplex with a patio in Manhattan Valley for $3,500, a three-bedroom with a rooftop on the Upper West Side for $2,700. We toured a three-bedroom duplex on the Upper West Side with a roof garden for $3,700 (plus agent fee); a garden apartment adjacent to Mount Morris Park for $3,200. I was ready to take either but the former was a fourth-floor walk-up and the latter had no living room.

“This just means that our apartment is out there,” my husband said.

He was right: In October, shortly after renewing our lease, which we’d renegotiated to month-to-month, we found a garden apartment … two blocks west in South Harlem for $3,000. It had three bedrooms, two bathrooms (not even on our wish list!) and one beautiful backyard.

I knew the moment I walked inside that it was home. Within a month, we’d moved.

So, for now, I remain — very happily — a city girl.

Amy Klein is a writer still living in NYC. Follow her on Twitter @AmydKlein and on Instagram.

About the author

Avatar

James Thompson

James Thompson has worked in various news organizations and now aims to make Report Door one of the best and fastest growing news websites in the U.S. He contributes to the US and World sections.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *