Earlier this year, Kansas City-based fashion designer Sarah Nelsen wanted to vacate her Columbus Park apartment, where she’d spent the last five years, and try a different part of town. After successfully scouting out a new place in mid-February—she found and signed a lease for a charming 2-bedroom with hardwood floors in an historic fourplex—she planned a trip to Italy, and planned to move in sometime in late March.
Change came more rapidly than she expected. By the time moving day arrived, coronavirus-related restrictions had forced her to cancel her European trip, and plan for a much more complicated move.
“I was pretty worried when I moved,” she says. “I had scheduled a moving company to move me on March 27, the first week the city was under lockdown, so I had to call and make sure they were an essential service. My mom had come to help, so I was worried about her, and trying to keep everyone involved at a proper distance.”
Moving apartments or finding new roommates is stressful, complicated, and time-consuming, even in the best circumstances. The coronavirus lockdown, while it’s kept many at home and mostly immobile, has made it trickier for those renters still looking for a new place to call home. Nelsen’s experience mirrors what many who have moved in the last few months have experienced, juggling safety concerns, extra logistics challenges, and a very tight rental market (in New York City, the number of signed leases for apartments dropped 71% in April, according to research from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel).
Luckily for renters finding a new place, whether it’s signing a lease at a new place or finding a new room, the market, while smaller, has adapted. Virtual showings have made it less risky to check out potential apartments, and many realtors see them becoming commonplace even after the pandemic. Video calls can help new roommates learn about each other and discuss tricky new questions about cohabitation and sharing space amid a pandemic. Leases can be signed digitally, and moving companies have, in the vast majority of states and cities, been deemed an essential service.
“The biggest issue is our customers being and feeling safe with their move,” says Najah Ayoub, who co-owns and -operates New York City-based Piece of Cake Moving & Storage with her husband Voyo Popovic. “Any professional moving company should take extra precautions around sanitization of trucks, having movers wear gloves and face shields and having them sanitize their hands after every move. We also offer contactless moving, where we talk with customers on video calls and have them electronically sign a bill of lading.”
Nelsen recommends using professional movers, to save stress and avoid any risk while transporting your belongings through hallways and common areas. Multiple moving companies underscored the importance of using new cardboard boxes instead of reusing old ones or those procured from stores.
Steven Jay, owner of Los Angeles-based Affordable Moving, says his staff typically gives customers a wide berth. More are taking the option of not being in the apartment these days, but says any that do want to be there on moving day need to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart.
Those relocating also need to be sure to coordinate with landlords in both buildings to make sure all new and old regulations around moving—reserving elevators, doing it during certain time windows, providing a head’s-up so other tenants can stay away—are being followed.
Ayoub says early into the COVID lockdowns apartment buildings “freaked out” about moves, but have gradually become more comfortable and established procedures for those coming and going. Nelsen had coordinated with her landlord, and made sure to do a thorough cleaning of her apartment before they unloaded any boxes.
Finding roommates can be a bit more tricky these days, due to concerns of coronavirus and the wildly varying level of risk and comfort different flatmates may have. According to Stephanie Diamond, who runs the Listings Project, the process has always been about finding a set of simpatico roommates. But now, the conversations have become even more personal.
“During quarantine, when you’ll be living on top of each other, it’s not just about your personality and what you do, it’s about how you live, if you’re working at home, if you’re an essential worker,” she says. “There’s so many more factors at play.”
Diamond says that in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., there have been record-high requests for sublets, since so many people have moved out or out of town, or have lost income or jobs and can’t afford their rent anymore. There are plenty of options for those who have to move, a dynamic she’s seen in multiple markets across the country.
Nearly every listing has COVID-realted information now, especially requests for roommates, and it’s fairly easy to eliminate potential apartment-sharing situations if the language around safety and risk don’t match up with your personal preference. Diamond says those looking to share an apartment typically meet together on FaceTime to gauge if they feel comfortable together; topics typically include routines, feelings about having guests or significant others over, and thoughts on shared space restrictions.
“Everybody is conscious of being safe, and living in the most harmonious way possible during COVID,” she says.
Understanding the risks of moving, as well as the conversations likely to happen between potential roommates, has become more important, as the volume of moves increases as cities slowly reopen. Ayoub of Piece of Cake Moving says she was crazy busy at the end of May, with many New Yorkers moving out of town or putting their stuff in storage.
When Nelsen reflects on her move, she admits it was stressful, but much of it was due to anxiety over the odd timing. She’s now appreciating the new apartment and new surroundings, despite the atypical circumstances. Even though it’s a difficult time to uproot things and have the comfort of home disrupted, moves can work, and even have silver linings, including having plenty of time to settle into a new setting.
“I’ve had lots of time to shop online for home accessories and things like that, so I’m really looking forward to having people over to my well-decorated place,” she says.