For the past two months, I’ve been dealing with a stereotypical New York conundrum: Should I live the dream and get my own place, or keep doing the frugal thing and continue living with strangers?
New York is possibly the most oppressive real estate market out there, with obscenely high prices for obscenely small spaces, shady landlords, and irksome roommates.
The market only looks to get stronger (read more expensive, according to BrickUnderground) this winter, and there’s a host of factors to consider, from how much I’ll save on monthly expenses to how much Aspirin I’ll need to stock up on.
To help me solve this conundrum, I’m asking you, readers, to help me decide!
By far the best part of living with two strangers is having two strangers around to help pay my bills: cable/internet, gas, and electricity.
A smaller space would mean lower costs, but with internet running around $20 a month, electricity $80 on average, and gas roughly the same, my roommates are keeping my wallet happy.
Estimated cost on my own: $73 per month
Estimated cost with roommates: $60 per month
In a city where roommates are practically an economic necessity for gainfully employed, professional 40-somethings, you know the rent is too damned high--as in an entire paycheck, or more than a third of one's take-home pay per month.
A lot of homeowners are doing this right now, but that doesn't mean I should. In fact, it seems risky: 33% of Americans don't have at least $1,000 saved up to cover emergency expenses, and I'd hate to squander that cushion if I ever needed it. (No, I can't ask my parents.)
What's worse, the money I flush down New York's real estate drain is money better put toward investing, and even retirement. Few Americans have this advantage--will I regret wasting it down the line?
Estimated cost with roommates: Between $1,000 and $1,200
Estimated cost on my own: Between $1,800-???
Nothing would say 'look ma, I made it!' quite like having my own little place, especially in New York. And outside the city, the 'you're not getting any younger set' has its eyes on my non-existent lease--didn't you know only spinsters and video store clerks use Craigslist?
Estimated cost with roommates: My pride
Estimated cost without roommates: Between $1,800 and ???
I might be moving up in the world, but I'll also be losing a weekend to packing up all my stuff--clothes, books, cookingware, etc. I'd also need to stock up on the goods to do so: boxes, packing tape, and scissors.
Since I can't even lift the side of my table, I'll need to enlist some help.
Estimated costs to move on my own: $45/hour with Paul to Haul or $135 for three hours
Estimated costs to move with two friends: a 10' truck U-Haul rental starting at $19.95 per hour--or $119 for six hours--roughly a full tank of gas (let's say $40), plus tax; $54.50 for a tomato and cheese pizza and two rounds of domestic beers at John's Pizzeria
Is 'hell other people'? Maybe. Sometimes Craiglist randos work out, other times living with them feels like a bad '90s sitcom: see the girl who made off with my spatulas in the night; live-in boyfriends who hogged my food.
Cost of roommates: $10.99 for a 100-count bottle of Advil tablets from Soap.com, my sanity.
But here's the real issue of living with strangers--being 'jointly and severally liable' on a lease makes me responsible for someone else's share of the rent. If they decide to bail out, I'm screwed, says Mike Akerly, a rent coach who advises readers on Brick Underground.
I could sue for their share in small claims court--and pay legal fees along the way--but what about tracking down this person if he or she leaves New York?
What's more, if I somehow fall behind on my rent, this might go on my credit report--not a good look for marriage prospects or my future rental agreement.
While many New York landlords behave nobly when it comes to returning their tenants' security deposit, still others overcharge for repairs, hang on to deposits just to see whether the tenant will fight for them, and deduct for things they shouldn't, says Brick Underground.
Am I prepared to scrub down my place, document the clean evidence, and if all else fails, sue in small claims court if things don't pan out?
Cost: $124 for an apartment cleaning by NY Maids, plus tax
So what do you think, should I stay where I am or move on to greener pastures?
More to the point: Are the short-term cost savings of having a roommate worth the long-term risks to my credit and sanity?