When rent gets in the way of a relationship

Xin-rui Li was initially reluctant to live with her partner.

They were together for a year and eight months, but after a seven-week trial life together, during a recent trip to Mexico City, Ms. Lee recalled leaving with a strong feeling that she did not want the situation to become permanent. .

“In the end, I felt like I wasn’t comfortable enough living with a partner to act stupid from time to time,” said Ms. Li, a 26-year-old communications specialist. “I took a snack one night because I was tired from work, but he was there all the time, and I just didn’t want to be perceived at all. I was so shy.”

Her desire to live alone gradually changed as the realities of the current rental market took shape. Her landlord announced that her current rent would go up by $300, and after a quick look at what was available online, Ms. Lee thought she was moving in with her partner might be the right choice after all. So they started looking for an apartment together, hoping to find a new place by the end of the summer.

As rents have skyrocketed in the United States in recent months, many couples are moving in together earlier than expected to afford apartments, create more reliable rental apps, or live in their ideal neighborhoods. With pandemic restrictions easing and people returning to cities, the rental market has not kept pace with demand. In May, the median rent in Manhattan hit a record high of $4,000, brokerage Douglas Elliman said. Nationwide, asking rents rose 15% year-over-year in May, according to real estate brokerage Redfin.

“We had clients who met for less than half a year, came together to share the burden of high rental rates in desirable areas,” said Tony Mattar, agent and founder of the Compass brokerage team in Chicago.

Kiyan Sanai, Douglas Elliman’s agent in New York, said he now saw more couples living together than ever before. “$2,500 in the West Village is not even a decent studio. But you can get a great two-bedroom apartment for $5,000 to $5,500, so for about $2,600 per person, you get a nice spacious apartment with your partner,” Mr. Sanai said. “It just makes more sense and couples see it.”

Many couples are now excited to take the next step in their relationship, but there are also newfound fears and anxieties associated with financial and geographic attachment to a significant other sooner than expected.

While Ms. Li is nervous about some aspects of living with her partner, she is looking forward to pooling resources to build a more beautiful home.

“I want to have a nice, cozy place, and together this is possible. Our game on the mat will be strong. Our art game will be strong,” said Ms. Li. “I’m worried about giving myself time to miss each other, but I’m also sure that we can find a rhythm that suits us.”

“I’m a little worried or scared that this will negatively affect our relationship, but it might just be great,” Ms. Li said.

This concern may well be justified. Ariel Kuperberg, associate professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said: “Once you move in with someone, it becomes much harder to leave them. You will have to look for a new apartment, you may have to break your lease, or it may even be embarrassing to stay in the same place with your ex.” These additional roadblocks to a breakup mean that certain qualities or differences that could have ended the relationship become something the couple will have to endure or overcome, Ms. Kuperberg said.

If you live with your significant other, “you probably share a bed with this person. Where is the escape hatch? said Sharon Sassler, co-author of The Nation’s Cohabitation and professor of sociology at the Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University.

Even for couples who are already planning to live together, the market has upset plans. Jennifer Gamarra, 25, and Michael Kaplan, 26, have been dating for two years and plan to move into a new apartment together when their lease expires this July. They wanted to live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in a two-bedroom apartment with amenities, perhaps a gym and bike storage, so they set up notifications on StreetEasy and started looking.

“I was hoping that pooling our budgets would allow us to scale up a bit,” said Mr. Kaplan, a software engineer. But they quickly realized that this was not the case. “A lot of other places, even the $5,000+ ones we looked at, didn’t have a good living room and didn’t have a suitable place to work from home,” Mr. Kaplan said.

The couple decided that Ms. Gamarra would simply move into Mr. Kaplan’s one-bedroom apartment, where the rent had risen from $2,200 to $3,000.

While the two are happy living in the same house as hoped, there are some new challenges of moving into Mr. Kaplan’s apartment instead of looking for a new apartment together.

“We wanted to move to a new place to make it our own, but now I’m moving into his apartment, and it seems to me that I will live in his place, not our place,” Ms. Gamarra, Ph.D. student said. “Trying to make the apartment look like our first joint house will be more of a challenge for me.”

The problems associated with living together too early are also exacerbated for people of lower socioeconomic status. “Those without a college degree are far more likely to live with a partner and less likely to marry than those with a college degree, and they are even more concerned about the high cost of housing,” Ms Sassler said. “The cost of rent has a much more detrimental effect on the less educated, especially when it comes to the development and stability of relationships.”

Living together out of economic necessity, rather than relationship compatibility, according to Ms. Sassler, is associated with lower relationship quality. “If couples decide to move in together because it’s cheaper and they might as well, they may find themselves rushing into the relationship.”

The New York Times interviewed one couple who decided not to be involved in the story again after they realized they didn’t agree on why they started living together in the first place. Both partners worked in the catering industry. While one said the high rent was the driving force behind the move in together, another said he sees it as the next step in their relationship.

“Disagreement is not the best recipe for success or satisfaction in a relationship. If in a year the partner who thought it was the right move wants to get engaged, but the other partner does not, what will follow? Miss Sassler said.

But if the relationship is strong, living together can be a great solution, Ms. Sassler added. “You can wake up together, see if they make you breakfast in bed or if they bring you coffee. Roommates generally don’t,” she said.

This added romantic intimacy is exactly what Kenneth Young, a 23-year-old product manager based in Brooklyn, was hoping for.

Mr Yang and his boyfriend had been dating for less than a year, but the couple wanted to stay in their neighborhood of Williamsburg, where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has risen by about 25 percent In the past year. Mr. Jung won the affordable housing lottery and they planned to share a one-bedroom apartment for $2,700 a month starting in July. They dreamed of buying a Noguchi coffee table and designing their own home.

“We would like to be able to at least wait up to one year in our relationship,” Mr. Jung said. “But with this rental market and how much we wanted to stay in the area, we thought it made a lot more sense to live together.”

But after his first interview with The New York Times, Mr. Jung and his partner decided to end it.

“That pressure of this hard date to move in together really made us re-evaluate if it’s a good thing now,” Mr. Yeng said. “It put a lot of pressure on us to get everything working.”

Now, Mr. Jung will be moving into a one-bedroom apartment, and with no one to share the rent with, he plans to plan his income carefully. “Less takeaway, maybe just one day a week to eat out and not order coffee,” he said. “I’m going to try and give up all those everyday luxuries just to earn that rent.” He also kisses Noguchi’s coffee table goodbye.

And perhaps not living with a romantic partner would be for the best anyway. “When the city finally opened, I felt like I had so much life. I was worried that if I lived with my partner, I would lose some of this newfound freedom,” he said. Jung said. “I think it made us very quick to make commitments to each other.”

To receive weekly email updates on residential real estate news, subscribe here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

%d bloggers like this: