Emily Niekrasz and Garrett Muzikowski lived happily in a two-bedroom basement apartment in a rowhouse on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Ms. Niekrasz had rented the 750-square-foot space for six years; Mr. Muzikowski had recently moved in. They felt settled and comfortable, and were surrounded by friends and family.
But what started as a possible job search last summer turned into an adventurous upheaval and, eventually, a move to New York City.
“I was happy in D.C. and being the website and social media content manager at the Smithsonian Institutional Archive. But I knew I could grow more at a smaller museum,” said Ms. Niekrasz, 30. She reached out to a handful of institutions, including the Museum of the City of New York.
“I’d applied there three times before and had never been hired,” she said of the museum. “When they offered me a position, I knew I had to take it. It was a big growth opportunity.”
Mr. Muzikowski, 26, who is a director at FTI, a global consulting firm with offices in New York and D.C., was pleased to relocate, as his team was based out of the firm’s Bryant Park location in Manhattan, which meant he would no longer need to commute for in-person meetings.
Searching on StreetEasy gave them a digital education in New York real estate. They scheduled eight appointments on Aug. 31 to look at apartments. The couple spent the day “schlepping and bopping around the city,” said Ms. Niekrasz, vetting apartments in Chinatown, SoHo, the Upper East Side and Midtown. Their experience was depleting and disappointing.
“There were holes in the walls, bugs, apartments with zero natural light, and horrific smells,” she said. “It was an eye-opening, exhausting experience.”
Yet they had reason to be hopeful by the end of that day when they found a fully furnished, 600-square-foot, one-bedroom in a high-rise co-op with a doorman in Midtown.
“There was a line of people waiting downstairs to see the apartment,” which was priced at $3,200 a month, Mr. Muzikowski said. Though the couple were paying $2,300 per month in D.C., the increase felt justified.
Both agreed that the owners had good taste and that the apartment was warm and beautiful. As a bonus, the apartment came complete with nine generous cubby-like built-ins that surrounded the TV area in the living room.
“It was the first place we saw that we could see ourselves living in,” Ms. Niekrasz said.
$3,200 | Midtown East, Manhattan
Emily Niekrasz, 30, and Garrett Muzikowski, 26
Occupations: Ms. Niekrasz is associate director of social media for the Museum of the City of New York. Mr. Muzikowski is a director at FTI, a global consulting firm
The location: “I love having a base in the middle of Manhattan and that I can get anywhere I need to go,” Mr. Muzikowski said. “Plus, there’s the convenience of Home Depot, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods, which are in our neighborhood. We’ve also found our late-night bars and a local pizza place.”
Splitting the rent: “When we lived in D.C., we split the rent 50/50. Before we moved, we talked about pricing, and $1,500 was my max,” Ms. Niekrasz said. “If we were going higher than that, and because he makes more than me, he was going to cover the rest.” She now pays $1,500, and he $1,700. “It made be me feel weird in the beginning, but I’m getting more comfortable with it.”
After viewing the apartment on that first day, Ms. Niekrasz and Mr. Muzikowski rushed to a pub around the corner. Seated at the bar with beer and hot pretzels in front of them, they feverishly tried to connect to the internet in order to fill out the application.
A day later they got an email from the building’s broker informing them they had been accepted. They signed the lease on Sept. 3, but since they were subleasing from the owners, they needed to meet the co-op board and pass the board interview, which included providing five letters of recommendation — each.
Anxiety increased as Ms. Niekrasz’s looming start date at the museum was Sept. 12, less than two weeks away.
“I had no idea or plan when I accepted the job,” Ms. Niekrasz said. “If I didn’t do this now, I’d never get this opportunity again.”
They devised a temporary couch-surfing plan that could be put into action if necessary. Ms. Niekrasz could live with cousins — one lived in the West Village and another by the ferry in Middletown, N.J. Or she could endure a two-and-a-half-hour commute, each way, and stay with her parents in Ocean County, N.J., where both Ms. Niekrasz and Mr. Muzikowski grew up. (Ms. Niekrasz ended up staying with her parents three days a week for a month; Mr. Muzikowski continued to work from D.C.)
Then came the real setbacks.
Though the requested recommendation letters were written and submitted, the co-op board went silent for three weeks. Then the owners, who were moving to Astoria, Queens, were delayed because of bank issues. Finally, a 15-minute Zoom call with five board members was scheduled for Sept. 29, almost a month after the couple saw the apartment.
“They wanted to make sure we weren’t weirdos or wouldn’t be irresponsibly raging in their building,” Ms. Niekrasz said jokingly. “It was a friendly conversation.”
Another snag occurred when the couple were informed that the apartment would not be furnished, after all. The owners had changed their minds and were now taking the furnishings with them.
“It wouldn’t have been a huge problem except for the fact that we already sold most of our furniture or gave it away to friends and family. We only prepared to take Garrett’s work desk, a bookshelf and our bed,” Ms. Niekrasz said.
Still, they hung in there.
“It felt like everyone had the upper hand. We didn’t even ask if they would lower our rent because of the furniture issue since it was so hard to find a place that we really liked,” Ms. Niekrasz said. “I felt desperate. We agreed to whatever they wanted so we could have a roof over our heads.”
On Oct. 1, the couple were approved by the board. Six days later the original owners moved out. Ms. Niekrasz and Mr. Muzikowski finally moved in on Oct. 11.
Though the couple went from a two-bedroom with a washer anddryer and dishwasher, to a slightly smaller one-bedroom with none of those luxuries, both said they didn’t miss the loss of those conveniences.
Ms. Niekrasz appreciates the closets in the hallway, and the bathroom that had been updated with a new tub, sink and cabinet. “Most apartments we saw just had racks for clothing,” she added.
They also have more storage space thanks to the built-ins in the living room, she said. “We also have a bar cart that I’m obsessed with, which Garrett bought for my birthday.”
The transition has been relatively easy for Mr. Muzikowski.
“I feel connected to the city already. There’s more to do here than D.C. It’s a new adventure,” said Mr. Muzikowski, an amateur soccer player who has quickly become a sought-after fill-in for leagues that are down a man during practice. “I’m picking up far more games here, which has been great.”
Ms. Niekrasz is still trying to get over the feeling that she is a tourist in New York.
“New York is teaching me to put myself out there and to make new friends,” she said. “The apartment has become a safe haven. It feels great to come home and have Garrett there.”
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