For young people looking to move out on their own, the rent is high and competition is intense

Samantha Fields Oct 4, 2023
Heard on:
For young first-time apartment hunters, a good credit score and enough savings can make or break the search. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

For young people looking to move out on their own, the rent is high and competition is intense

Samantha Fields Oct 4, 2023
Heard on:
For young first-time apartment hunters, a good credit score and enough savings can make or break the search. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

This spring, after Zamien Allard graduated from college, almost all of his friends moved back in with their parents. He did too. 

“Not a single person from my grade, that I’m close with at least, has moved out on their own yet, even with roommates,” said Allard, 22, who attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. “They wanted to do it right away, but everyone just knew that they couldn’t because they had to save up.”

Rent is just too expensive for them to swing right now, especially in New York City, where he grew up and is looking to stay if he can. 

There are a few exceptions in his circle. A couple of friends who were a year ahead of him have moved in together in New York — business majors who got high-paying jobs straight out of school. Another found a place in Saratoga Springs, where rent is cheaper. And another moved to Boston. That’s pretty much it. Everyone else is at home, in their childhood bedrooms, trying to save enough to move out. 

“I always had that plan, you know, move back home for a year or two, and then with some friends from college I’ll move out,” said Allard, who’s working as a freelance photographer and personal trainer while he looks for a full-time job. “I looked a little bit over the summer, but I’m kind of glad that I haven’t done in-depth research because the market’s crazy right now.” 

Nearly half of 18-to-29-year-olds are living with their families, more than at any time since the 1940s, according to a recent Harris Poll for Bloomberg. Many do it to save money, many more because they can’t afford a place of their own.

Those looking to move out are facing rents that are more than 20% higher than before the pandemic, low inventory and a lot of competition. 

Ben Luben knew he’d have to be aggressive when he started looking for apartments in Los Angeles a couple of months ago, but he didn’t realize just how aggressive until he lost out on one place because he didn’t check his email for a few hours. In that time, someone else applied and got it.

“There’s not a whole lot of flexibility to actually really sit with a place and think through like, ‘Hey, does this really feel right?’” he said. “Because if you take the time to think about it, someone else is probably gonna snatch the place up from under you.”

Luben is 30 and has been living with his mom since he graduated from college in 2015. At the time, he figured he’d stay a few years while he worked his way into the film industry and saved up enough money to move out. Then the pandemic happened. 

Now that he is ready to move out, he’s finding there’s not that much out there. And he’s looking hard. 

“Basically, like, I have probably at least 10 separate tabs open that I am combing through,” he said. “It feels like kind of the first thing I do when I wake up, I check all the listings.”

Craigslist, Zillow, RentCafe, Zillow, Trulia. Craigslist again, Zillow again, all day, every day.  

“It is hard to find a place that is in my budget, that works with location, that there is not a massive, glaring red flag with.”

He’s toured probably 20 places in the last couple of months. The two he’s been most interested in, he lost out on.

It’s a rough time to be looking for a place to live, almost no matter who you are. But especially if you don’t have a high-paying job, a big budget and a strong credit history.

Anna Mayou, 22, learned that when she started looking for a studio apartment in Duluth, Minnesota, where she grew up and graduated from college this spring.

“I toured a lot of places. And like, one of them was awesome. I was the first person there, I put money down, I thought I had it,” she said. 

But then the landlord got back to her. He’d given it to someone else with better credit, even though they came after she’d put money down.

“But you know, they can pick and choose like that, unfortunately,” she said. “So, it was a lot of that.”

Eventually, she got lucky. Her mom came across an old ad that a landlord hadn’t realized was still up, and it turned out he had a studio that was about to open. 

“So the timing was perfect,” Mayou said. “And I mean, he said to me too, he’ll put a studio apartment up and it’s gone in, like, a day.”

Moving into her own place for $700 a month, she almost felt like she’d won the lottery. 

In New York City, where the average rent on a studio is now over $3,400, Náosha Gregg, 24, is hoping to luck in to a similar kind of situation. She lived at home for college, to avoid taking out student loans, and graduated in May 2020.

“When the world was falling apart. So that was fun,” she said with a laugh.

She’s been living with her family since then, too, to save up to move out. By the end of last year, she felt like she had enough and started looking. 

Her goal: a studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York, for $1,200 to $1,400. Maybe $1,500 if necessary. 

“I found a nice apartment, and the rent was really, really great. It was like $1,100. And I was like, this is amazing,” Gregg said. “But then when I saw the broker’s fee … on top of first month, last month and security, I’m like, that is almost $7,000 just to get the keys!”

It was too much. She couldn’t do it. And that was one of the only decent places she’s been able to find in months of searching. 

Mostly when she’s on her computer scrolling Zillow, the only things that come up in her price range in Brooklyn are not places she’d want to live. 

Like one she found recently, deep into Brooklyn, for $1,200. The price was right. But, Gregg said, “it’s cheap because of the location. It’s basically a transportation desert. There’s no train, you have to take a bus to a train, it’s a very long commute.”

Which might be OK if everything else was great. But when she clicked on the listing and scrolled through the photos, she realized it was a basement, with one tiny window in the entire apartment. 

And she also saw that to qualify, she’d need a credit score of at least 700, which she doesn’t have. 

“Yeah, so right now I’ve paused my search,” Gregg said. “I’m just focused on saving.”

She’s also reassessing what’s realistic in this market. 

“I’ve even been considering moving out of New York, which is really sad,” she said. “Because I was born and raised here, everything I know is here, from my friends, my family, my hair salon, my grocery store, my doctors.”

She’s not quite ready to make that call yet. She’s hoping that looking in the winter might be a little easier, and that, like Anna Mayou in Duluth, she’ll eventually find a local landlord who will give a native New Yorker just starting out a chance.

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