Mackenzie Dunn
Updated May 28, 2020 @ 4:58 pm
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Credit: Justin Lambert, Getty Images

To move or not to move? That has been the question on thousands of city-dwellers’ minds throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Due to high rents and the shelter-in-place mandate, people who live in small apartments are starting to consider expanding to bigger, greener, and less densely populated pastures.

The U.S. Postal Service saw a boom of people moving out of N.Y.C. by the tracking of mail-forwarding requests from areas like New Jersey and Los Angeles, according to The New York Times. Why? Because people have chosen to flee their apartments to move back home with their parents, stay with friends, or find a place that was less expensive while they waited out the pandemic. Others, however, are shopping around for more permanent residences by searching on the internet: “should I move to Florida?” and “should I move out of California?”

But whether your lease is up and you’re considering relocating, or you’re a recent grad trying to figure out if moving into a big city is feasible (or potentially cheaper) right now, we asked real estate experts to give us the scoop. Of course, you should keep in mind that no article or Facebook call-out can make this decision for you. As cities slowly begin to open back up, these circumstances not only vary by geographic area but personal preference and financial status, too.

Here’s what you need to know about moving right now:

Some good news: Now might be the time to start a brand-new lease elsewhere. Of course, one of the disadvantages of moving to a new home right now is not having the ability to see the place in person, which, TBH, can be scary. But some states are starting to allow in-person showings.

If you’re willing to take a chance on an apartment by taking a video or FaceTime tour, Bill Kowalczuk, a broker for Warburg Realty, says you may even benefit by solidifying a good deal due to the lack of demand at the moment.

“Once we can show [homes] in person, there will be pent-up demand, and there will be fewer deals to be had at that time,” he says. “Because of this, now is the time to make your best deal. Once the gates are open and people start coming out, you will have more competition for apartments. Rent or sale.”

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What to do if your lease is expiring:

First things first: If your lease is up (or about to be in the next few months), you’ll need to make a decision on whether or not you want to re-sign. Keep in mind that unless your apartment is rent-stabilized, re-signing may mean an increase in rent price. Additionally, most landlords and property management companies require a certain amount of notice prior to moving out—the standard is 30 days—so they can know if they need to prepare to re-list the unit.

If you’ve decided not to re-sign, you can still safely move out by using moving companies, like Roadway Moving, which are following CDC-issued coronavirus guidelines to make moving as safe and easy as possible.

“As essential services, we moving companies want to take this opportunity to make sure we get everyone’s transportation needs met, regardless of nature and industry,” the company states in a post. “And if your local government allows us moving companies to operate in your area, we’re taking all the necessary precautions available to make sure your transportation and moving needs are met without any worries.”

Many moving companies, like Roadway, are now offering virtual in-home estimates, too, which allow people to video the items that will need to be moved without having unnecessary personnel in your home. Additionally, some movers will even pack up your home or apartment for you via video, should you be unable to come back and do it yourself.

Once everything is boxed and ready to go, they’ll be able to drive or ship your boxed-up belongings to your new location. Or they can put your items in storage for safekeeping.

Just make sure to call your landlord and see what the policies are in the building for moving or virtual walkthrough, and try to coordinate accordingly since you may not be able to be there in person.

What to do if you want to break your lease:

There could be a lot of reasons for breaking a lease right now. Aside from escaping the pandemic, thousands of people have lost their jobs, and sometimes unemployment will not cover the cost of top-dollar urban apartment rent.

While those with mortgages, including landlords, are getting some form of aid from the federal government, that has not been extended to the nation’s 40 million-plus renters.

Though the rules and regulations for breaking a lease vary by state, you should be aware that in some states, you will incur a penalty for breaking the contract.

“New York State allows tenants to break a lease,” explains Kowalczuk. “However, you are still responsible for the rent up until a new tenant moves in. You will also be responsible for any shortfall the landlord might have with the new rent for the remainder of your lease time.”

For example, this could mean that if you pay $4,000 in monthly rent and have six months left on your lease, but your landlord is only able to rent the apartment for $3,800, you would owe the additional $200 for the remaining six months of your lease. Rest assured, though, most states require the landlord to show proof of a concerted effort to get the apartment re-rented.

If you can’t totally break the lease, talking to your landlord about the potential to go month to month may be an option, though many real estate experts warn landlords against this since there is more risk involved for them. For example, they may be unable to find a new tenant quickly if you choose to move out. Nonetheless, it may be worth having a conversation about your current status and finding out if this could be an option.

As Caleb Liu, owner of real estate company HouseSimplySold.com, tells HelloGiggles, “Many renters forget that landlords are people, just like anyone else,” he tells us. “They’re dealing with the same doubts and insecurities everyone else is facing. If you can bridge that gap early and reach out to them before a real issue arises—things are changing very quickly right now—they’re very likely to extend some flexibility with your situation. It never hurts to ask.”