Millennials like Ellie Nave are picking up their sticks, putting their belongings in storage, and leaning into their families for stopgap housing during COVID-19 isolation.
The 33-year-old New Yorker fled to her parents’ home in Westchester County, located just north of the city, at the beginning of March to ride out the pandemic. Thinking the quarantine wouldn’t last as long as it has, she packed only a few personal items like her laptop and clothes from her hamper. Nave’s been living with her parents for over two months.
When Zillow, her employer, announced in April that all employees had the option to work remotely for the remainder of 2020, Nave got an idea.
Equal parts practical and financial, Nave decided it was time to unload the $3,000 per month Manhattan studio that she rented.
“I have been paying for a very expensive storage facility that I haven’t set foot in since I left,” Nave said.
After a conversation with her landlord, she decided to not renew her lease that is set to expire May 15. Her belongings are now at a storage facility and she’s now living with her parents and has tentative plans to rent a place outside of the city or near the ocean.
‘Breaking a lease is almost never advised’
Scores of other urban dwellers may consider doing the same, leaving behind their cities (and expensive rent) and moving during the pandemic to reevaluate their living options. It’s easier to do this now with companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft giving their employees the option to work remotely for the rest of the year.
And for the millions who’ve lost their job during the outbreak, a reduction to their cost of living might be a financial necessity. In either scenario, experts agreed that the best time to move is before you’re forced to.
“Breaking a lease is almost never advised because the extra time and expense it entails,” Bill Simonet, a Texas-based certified financial planner, said.
If it’s a lack of employment that’s prompting your move, you have more bargaining power than you think, Simonet said. Reduced rent is still better than an empty unit in the eyes of a landlord or management company.
“If you have been furloughed, laid off, suffering from reduced wages, or other financial difficulty— your first step should be to have a conversation with your landlord about reducing your lease or getting an abatement.”
In Nave’s case, she was able to get out of her lease with zero financial reprisal from her landlord, thanks to serendipitous timing. If you aren’t as fortunate to have the calendar work in your favor, reach out to your city's housing authority or work with a realtor who has a background in rentals to identify spaces that meet your criteria, Simonet said.
‘Cheaper is not always better’
If you’re interested in slashing living expenses as your employer permits remote work for the foreseeable future, exploring life in a new place and fantasizing about how much you’ll save in housing costs isn’t the only piece of the equation.
Renters also need to remember the pricey and unavoidable expenditures like security deposit, possible pet fees, and transportation costs that are almost guaranteed to be incurred, said Sean Pearson, a Pennsylvania-based financial advisor.
“The ongoing cost savings might take longer to break even,” he said, “potentially costing you more in the short run.”
Pearson cautioned that moving might beget more spending. It could also impact the cost of tax rates, car insurance, commuting costs, or other ongoing costs, reducing the potential savings that you see from moving.
But not all decisions can be made based solely on financial considerations and quality of life should guide your decision making. Living farther away from your network means less opportunities to socialize and possibly a longer commute to work thereby decreasing your free time.
“Cheaper is not always better,” Pearson said. “But if you can save money on the less important things, you will have more left over for what is important to you.”
Read more information and tips in our Housing section