Shortly after graduating from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., Melissa Miller returned home to Baltimore and prepared to head to New York to pursue an acting and voice-over career.
She briefly considered living in Hoboken, N.J., where a friend was moving, until she realized it would make for a three-leg commute to Manhattan — to, on and from the PATH train.
“I wanted to be in New York City so I could take the subway and be anywhere,” said Ms. Miller, 22. Specifically, she wanted easy access to Times Square, Penn Station and the theater district, where she takes classes and goes to auditions.
For her new home, her requirements included a doorman, a laundry room and not too many stairs.
“I wanted to live alone,” she said. “I had too many bad roommate experiences with people I thought I knew.”
Unlike some of her friends, she had no nearby relatives to stay with, so she hunted while living briefly with the family of a college friend on Long Island. In mid-fall, with a rental budget of $2,000 a month, she went to see a $1,975 studio in a Murray Hill co-op building that met her criteria. The unit had a main room of around 200 square feet plus pink-bathroom charm.
“It was exactly what she was looking for: a studio in a lower price range,” said Jessica Flynn, a licensed sales agent at Keller Williams TriBeCa, who showed her the apartment.
Ms. Miller was ready to sign on. But “her parents wouldn’t let her,” Ms. Flynn said, “because it was the first one she saw.”
She continued hunting on her own, unable to find anything suitable: Most places were tiny or far from the subway. So she contacted Ms. Flynn again, this time with a budget of up to $2,250.
“She needed one of those larger studios, where you feel you’ve found a gem,” Ms. Flynn said.
Ms. Miller mentioned her interest in the theater district. She liked one spacious studio there, in a condominium building a block from the Broadway musical “Mean Girls.” For $2,300, it included a foyer, a separate kitchen and ample closet space.
She called her parents on FaceTime and declared, “Welcome to Melissa’s dream house.”
But her father objected to the busy neighborhood, teeming with theatergoers.
“He said, ‘If you can buy pizza for a dollar, you are not in the right neighborhood — they are targeting tourists,’” Ms. Miller said. “He didn’t actually care about the cost of pizza, but there was no sense of community.”
She wanted a neighborhood where she could find “a restaurant where people knew me,” she said. “I can take the subway to the theater district, but I don’t have to live there.”
She saw more tiny studios west of Times Square and east of Grand Central Terminal. One had a pole in the middle, which she didn’t mind, although she did mind the “micro kitchens.”
Heading uptown, Ms. Miller went to see another spacious studio with Ms. Flynn, this one in the West 80s, for $2,450. She applied, only to learn that another application had arrived just minutes earlier. The landlord chose the other person, possibly because it was someone with a regular job and regular hours.
“Melissa is in and out of the house all the time,” Ms. Flynn said. “They wanted a tenant who wasn’t going to be home and using the space.”
On a fifth day of hunting, Ms. Flynn scheduled more places with a dwindling sense of optimism. “This was the last of what was available,” she said, at least until the following month.
They entered another large studio, in an Upper West Side co-op building, for $2,500. It had a small renovated kitchen with a peninsula, a large closet and three windows overlooking an air shaft. “The second I walked in, I knew it was the one,” Ms. Miller said. “I loved the location, the doormen were friendly, and the people going in and out seemed happy.”
The broker’s fee was 15 percent of a year’s rent, or $4,500. She arrived in the fall with the family cat, and furnished the place with pieces from Ikea.
“It is my first apartment, so it is a really big deal,” said Ms. Miller, one of four siblings. “I am on my own for the first time, living by myself. It’s different when you’re not around your family all the time. You don’t have people you can always go and get a hug from. When I talked to my cat about my problems, she didn’t give me the same advice my parents would give me.”
In addition to spotty advice, the cat kept her awake all night, poking and meowing, and was sent back to Baltimore.
Now Ms. Miller has her neighborhood diner and her neighborhood bank, where people know her. At the nearest pizza place, a slice costs $3.
“The neighborhood feels really homey,” she said. “There are a lot of families around, and I love to see people walking their dogs.”
And like many New Yorkers, she is learning that the apartment is hot inside regardless of how cold the temperature is outside. She had an air-conditioner installed for both winter and summer use.
Opening a window helps, but it also lets in noise from nearby construction, especially in the morning. “One site is really close, and I hear everyone yell for this guy named John,” she said.
Her schedule includes a new job as a waitress — a quick subway ride downtown — and she is seeking babysitting jobs. If acting doesn’t pan out, she plans to study child psychology in graduate school.
As for her new quarters, “It all worked out,” she said. “I can’t imagine getting anything better for my price range.”
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