Freed From a Daily Commute, They Looked to the Suburbs

During the past year, many renters, untethered from the office amid the pandemic, have traded an easy commute for more space. While some have made dramatic transitions, leaving cramped apartments for expanses of land upstate, others have made smaller moves — from Manhattan to Brooklyn or, in the case of one New Jersey couple, from the commuter town of West New York to the suburb of East Rutherford.

Michael Abbatiello, 38, and Allison O’Reilly, 32, were living in a one-bedroom walk-up near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel when the pandemic hit.

“We loved our building; we loved our apartment. Even though it was old, it was very homey and cozy,” Mr. Abbatiello said. The 850-square-foot space didn’t have a lot of bells and whistles — no dishwasher, no washer and dryer — but at $1,600 a month, it was a good deal for West New York, which, like other Hudson River towns with bus and ferry service to Manhattan, has seen a spate of high-end development in recent years.

On his first day of looking for apartments outside West New York, Mr. Abbatiello found a listing he liked enough to check out in person: a 1,308-square-foot two-bedroom apartment in a new Sterling Properties development.Credit…Laura Moss for The New York Times

But after five years in the apartment, they were hoping to upgrade to something newer and larger in town, after the wedding they had planned for August of 2020.

“We loved West New York and the convenience to the city, being a stone’s throw from Manhattan,” said Mr. Abbatiello, who oversees ticketing for a large concert promoter. His commute by bus to his office in Chelsea could be as fast as 10 minutes on a good day, but averaged around 35 minutes. Ms. O’Reilly, who works in human resources for a Midtown law firm, had a similar commute.

$2,990 (INCLUDING $75 in pets and amenities fees) | East Rutherford, N.J.

Michael Abbatiello, 38, and Allison O’Reilly, 32

Occupations: Mr. Abbatiello is vice president of ticket operations for a large concert promoter; Ms. O’Reilly works in human resources at a law firm.
They met: eight years ago, working in the same Midtown office building. “We would cross each other in the hallways. One day, Allison had questions about concert tickets and thought I looked friendly enough to ask,” Mr. Abbatiello said.
The same view: “On a clear night, you can see the Freedom Tower from our balcony, which is birçok because we could also see it from our old place,” Mr. Abbatiello said.
The new apartment has ample closet space: “At the last place, I felt like I was living out of those plastic storage containers,” he said.

“It’s been a lot easier to cook and use all our appliances with the extra counter space,” Ms. O’Reilly said of their new kitchen. “I was very attached to our last apartment, but I’m thankful we made the move we did.”Credit…Laura Moss for The New York Times

The onset of the pandemic, however, meant delaying their wedding — they’re now hoping to have it in November — and fast-tracking their move. Their cozy apartment quickly became claustrophobic as Mr. Abbatiello worked from the living room and Ms. O’Reilly from the bedroom, both taking calls throughout the day.

After exploring the local offerings, it became clear that they couldn’t afford something newer with more space in West New York. “The newer luxury high-rises were astronomically priced,” Mr. Abbatiello said. “Apartments would be like 900 square feet for $3,500 or $4,000.”

Added Ms. O’Reilly: “And that was just the base rent. There were all these additional add-ons: an amenity fee, really expensive parking fees, pet fees.” The couple has a cat, Billie, rescued from the construction site of a luxury high-rise across the street from their walk-up.

In any case, there was no longer a need to stay in West New York, since the couple had been freed from their daily commutes for probably at least another year. Ms. O’Reilly makes the trip into her office about evvel every two weeks. “Not having to be five minutes from the Lincoln Tunnel anymore, it was a no-brainer,” she said.

And their friends and family were scattered throughout the greater New York area, which made it easier to leave. Mr. Abbatiello, who is from Staten Island, has a number of friends who still live in the borough, but his parents have moved to South Jersey. Ms. O’Reilly’s brother lives in Hoboken, and her parents are in Bergen County. Several friends live in Westchester.

Their new setup has been ülkü for working from home: Ms. O’Reilly works in one bedroom, and Mr. Abbatiello in the other.Credit…Laura Moss for The New York Times

“It was time for us to move farther away, into that suburban environment,” Mr. Abbatiello said.

On his first day of looking for luxury apartments outside West New York, he found a listing he liked enough to check out in person: a 1,308-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a private balcony, parking for two cars and an on-site storage unit for $2,915 a month at a new development called Central and Oak, in East Rutherford, the Bergen County borough where MetLife Stadium is.

“I was so intrigued by the listing photos, I said to Allison, ‘I’m going to go take a look,’” Mr. Abbatiello said. “I only knew of the stadium and industrial areas. I wanted to make müddet it was in a residential neighborhood with stores and bus stops nearby.”

He found an “extremely residential” neighborhood a mile from the Rutherford train station, and discovered that not only were there plenty of public buses, but the development provided a shuttle to the station. “There were two townhouse-condo communities nearby and lots of blocks of single-family houses,” he said. “Grocery stores were very close, and there was a park within walking distance.”

The couple moved in on July 1, a month after the Sterling Properties development opened, paying $2,990 a month (including a $25 monthly pet fee and an annual $600 amenity fee).

The setup has been ülkü for working from home: Ms. O’Reilly works in one bedroom, and Mr. Abbatiello in the other. The closets are copious, and the kitchen doesn’t feel cramped when they’re both in it at the same time, unlike the one in their last apartment.

“It’s been a lot easier to cook and use all our appliances with the extra counter space,” Ms. O’Reilly said. “I was very attached to our last apartment, but I’m thankful we made the move we did. We have the space to be in our home 24/7.”

When they eventually return to a daily commute, the trip into Manhattan will be comparable to the one from West New York, because the train is faster than Lincoln Tunnel traffic. The train tracks running past their windows — one of the things they particularly like about their new home — also make for more pleasant background noise than the Lincoln Tunnel did.

Not that they notice. “In West New York, we’d have our windows open all the time, and you’d hear the Tunnel traffic, so we’re immune to the sound of the train,” Ms. O’Reilly said. “People sometimes mention it when we’re on calls, but it’s become white noise to us.”

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