Most people spent the spring trying to stay as far away from strangers as possible. But for renters like Elizabeth Merritt and Michael Daly, who needed to find roommates in the midst of the pandemic, moving in with someone they had never met was part of the reality of living in New York, global health crisis or not.
At any other time, an in-person meetup would be standard before agreeing to become roommates. And under normal circumstances, two busy professionals sharing an apartment might cross paths only on evenings and weekends. But the pandemic meant they would be spending most of their waking hours in the same space.
“It is a little like marrying someone before you meet,” said Ms. Merritt, 26, who met Mr. Daly, 25, on the Facebook group Gypsy Housing in late March and moved into a Bushwick, Brooklyn, two-bedroom with him in late June. “You’re sharing a toilet and depending on them to pay rent.”
Ms. Merritt had been living in a Bedford-Stuyvesant one-bedroom that cost $1,950 a month. Her lease ended in May, and while a pandemic wasn’t an ideal time to move, she had planned to stay in the one-bedroom only for a year, a time-limited splurge after a stint living with five roommates, two cats and a dog.
“I thought it would be nice to try living alone, but I couldn’t really afford it,” said Ms. Merritt, who sells technical textiles for a company in the garment district. She had managed to cover the cost, but money had been uncomfortably tight, and the prospect of a raise seemed remote, given the pandemic. She had also turned 26, which meant that she had been booted off her parents’ health insurance plan and had to buy into the company plan, which tacked a few hundred dollars onto her monthly expenses.
As for Mr. Daly, a public relations associate who moved to New York in October, he had hoped to stay in the three-bedroom Bushwick sublet where he had been living for a few months. But then he learned that both roommates were planning to move out when the lease expired at the end of June.
$2,500 | Bushwick
Elizabeth Merritt, 26, and Michael Daly, 25
Occupations: Ms. Merritt works in sales for a technical textiles manufacturer; Mr. Daly is an associate at public relations firm.
The sofa: Mr. Daly’s sofa wouldn’t fit up the stairs, so they bought a smaller one online, but even that was a tight fit. “It had to go very close to the oven,” Ms. Merritt said, pointing out the somewhat strange juxtaposition. “But that’s just a New York thing.”
Their neighborhood: “If and when we can entertain, it will be great,” Ms. Merritt said. “We’re in this wedge where the J, Z and M meet. We’re really close to Mood Ring, Birdy’s, Happyfun Hideaway. Should things resume, we’ll be ready.”
At first, Mr. Daly thought he would apply for his apartment with two new roommates. A friend wanted one of the rooms, and after Zooming with Ms. Merritt — they also started following one another on social media — they decided that she would be a good fit for the third room. But then the friend, who had been worried about signing a lease given the economic uncertainty, decided to play it safe and moved back in with his parents.
After several weeks of trying to find a third roommate on Gypsy Housing — the odds were not in their favor, they noted, as people were flooding the site with sublets and lease takeovers — Ms. Merritt and Mr. Daly decided it would be easier to look for a two-bedroom.
They agreed on a budget — $2,500 or less — and a neighborhood: Bushwick, by the JMZ train line, which worked for their commutes, if they ever went back to the office. Ms. Merritt’s landlord also agreed to extend her lease by a month so that she and Mr. Daly could look for a July 1 move-in.
The pair met in person for the first time in May, when they went to look at an apartment. Mr. Daly said he wasn’t worried that they would clash in person. “We’d spent so much time talking together at that point,” he said.
“And we were both wearing masks, so I felt like we were both taking coronavirus seriously,” Ms. Merritt said.
They were also relieved to find they were aligned in their apartment tastes: After touring the space, they agreed that it was serviceable, but nothing special.
The broker mentioned that he had another apartment nearby, a $2,500-a-month two-bedroom with a lofted mezzanine that had come back on the market after the landlord discovered the would-be tenants hadn’t been paying rent at their previous apartment. As it was somewhat dubiously listed as a three-bedroom, it had never come up in their searches.
They took to the space immediately.
“We liked that it had high ceilings and more character. If we entertained, we felt like we’d be a little bit more proud of this apartment,” Ms. Merritt said. “And our bedrooms could not be farther apart — it’s kind of like we have our own wings.”
“We didn’t want to share a wall,” Mr. Daly said. And Ms. Merritt recalled that she once “had one roommate that I could hear breathe, just breathe. That freaked me out, having no feeling of privacy.”
The only real downside was that the landlord wanted a June 20 move-in and wouldn’t budge, which meant paying double rent for 10 days. That, and the bedrooms had no closets: Instead, there were small, wall-mounted open wardrobes — a few rows of shelving with a rack below to hang clothing on. (Mr. Daly likes the feature; Ms. Merritt prefers garment racks.)
They decided to go for it anyway. The mezzanine over the living room, laundry in the building and the shared backyard helped tip the scales.
So far, things have gone fairly well, with a few minor glitches. The movers couldn’t fit Mr. Daly’s sofa up the building stairs, so he had to sell it in a hurry, as it was stuck in the lobby. The roommates ordered a new one from Overstock, but it took a while to arrive, so they spent most of the last month in their rooms, as common-space seating options were limited to the metal bar stools.
But even now that the new sofa has arrived, they find that they spend most of the day working in their rooms.
“We don’t really get in each other’s way,” Ms. Merritt said. “And we are home 100 percent of the time, but neither of us cooks much.”
“I eat a lot of soup. I’m not in the kitchen a lot on weekdays,” Mr. Daly said.
“I like soup, too. Cereal, oatmeal, maybe a salad, and we both eat a lot of chips,” Ms. Merritt said. “Mostly grab-and-go stuff, even though we’re always here.”
As for the housewarming, it will have to wait. “I do fantasize, but I’m not sure when it will happen,” Ms. Merritt said.
At least there’s time. “I want to be here for two years, at least,” she said.
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