Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Relocating to NYC

I've been a lurker around here for quite some time, so I've seen the rare piece of sage advice handed out. Now I need some.

I just learned this morning that my job is moving to NYC (they want me to follow it). I currently live and work in St. Louis, MO. This is a financial industry-type job. I love the job, and I'm very well compensated.  HOWEVER, I have a wife and two young sons with whom I also like to spend time when I'm not working :)

My question is about the "Wall Street/NYC" lifestyle. I've heard horror stories about long hours and insane commutes. (I know I'm spoiled; I live in a rural area, but have a 40 min. commute to downtown STL.) Is it really all that bad? I haven't seen the total relo offer or anything yet, but this isn't about dollars and cents as much as the overall quality of life. (But, meanwhile, the tech jobs market in STL is pretty weak --I'd probably take a huge pay cut to remain here.)

Your informed opinions and comments are appreciated.
(Apologies for the abuse of parentheticals.)

Rob VH
Monday, July 21, 2003

Rob, what are your housing requirements?

You mention a wife and kids... what's your budget? what kind of environment do you want your kids to grow up in, etc.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Currently we live in a single family with a big yard. I'm not so interested in taking care a big yard in the future :)

I haven't met with HR yet to find out exactly what kind of package I'll get, but housing is very inexpensive here. My 1800 sq. ft. house on 2 acres will probably fetch $120k. I understand that to find something similar, with less land will probably cost 3 times as much, and be 50 mi. from the city.

Rob VH
Tuesday, July 22, 2003

We're looking for a house in NJ right now.  I work in NJ, but would like to have a decent commute into the city if circumstances change in the future.

Is the size of your property important to you?  Because that definitely means you're moving 50mi. or so away from the city.  Otherwise, 3x what your house would go for in StL is probably about right, but you can be a lot closer than 50mi. if you shop around.  That's the range we're looking at right now.

Tons of people commute in NJ, so the trains and buses are pretty good, and fairly convenient.  So proximity to a train station is a big determiner in property values (buses you can catch from pretty much anywhere).  The exceptions are the Oranges and Newark area, which are very close to the city but have crime issues and the schools aren't as good.

What's your company doing in terms of relocation?  Do you have time to look?

Of course, if you want to live in the city, that's a whole different conversation.

For example, a good path to home ownership in Brooklyn is being a landlord.  Houses are big there and often each floor is converted into its own apartment.  The guy who owned the house next door to the one where we were renting had two tenants on the second and third floors and he lived on the first.  I imagine his tenants pretty much covered his mortgage.

Good luck!

Jim Rankin
Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Ok that gives us a starting point for discussion.

Rather than miles from the city, since everyone commutes by train, what we're talking about is distance from the subway. New York City consists of 5 boroughs - Manhattan (aka New York, NY), Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.

Houses in the outlying areas of new york are on plots of land that are probably around... 50' x 150' or so.. that's a rough estimate with a large margin of era... I'm just sort of guessing at the size of my childhood home. Depending on the neighborhood, one of these will fetch between $300k - $500k or more in the 5 boroughs.

A lot of people I know are buying houses on Staten Island - they housing there is relatively inexpensive, and the quality of life is pretty good. But... it's an island, and you have to take a ferry to get to work. If you really work on Wall Street this might not be a big deal because once you get off the ferry, wall street is not far, but a bus/train to the ferry to another train will become your standard routine.

Brooklyn & Queens are where the bulk of the working class live. When you're shopping around here, basically what you're looking at is distance from the city - all the club kids that don't want to be far from the night life will want to live as close to the city as possible - and then the working class areas just beyond that.

Second, you want to look at distance from the subway. This breaks down into "one fare zones" and "two fare zones," though technically everything is a one fare zone now with the metrocard. In other words, will you have to take a bus to get to the train?

Obviously, the two fare zones will have better houses that are less expensive and closer to things like parks.

Finally, there's New Jersey, Long Island, and Upstate New York. These areas aren't serviced by the New York City Transit System, so there's another layer added to your commute - New Jersy Transit, the Long Island Rail Road, and Metro North respectively. Depending on how far out you are, it means taking the (expensive) train from your home town into NYC and then getting a subway to work from there.

The more hassle you're willing to put up with, the more bang you get for your home buying buck, and the more rural an area you can live in.

confused? Check out the maps & timetables on the MTA's website:

If you look at the subway map:

I live 10 minutes from the Kings Highway Q station stop, and it takes me roughly a half hour to 40 mins get to the wall street area if I take the express. It would probably take longer on another train line that has more stops, but that can give you a rough estimate of how long it would take to get to wall street from other areas.

Wall street is near the southern end of Manhattan...
Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Thanks for the replies. The housing situation up there is like a whole different universe to me. Thinking in terms of mass transit is not how we do it in St. Louis.

For now, I think I've dodged the bullet. The other programmer and I have been lobbying hard the last couple of days to remain in STL and support our group remotely (probably spending 1 week per month in NY).

Again, thanks for the help. I intend to educate myself thoroughly, just in case.

Rob VH
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

One thing I can add is if you are looking to live in NJ and take the train in NYC you also need to check how long the wait is to get a parking permit at the local parking lot. Some are not too bad 1-3 years (central corridor line) others like Matawan (Jersey Coast) are > 8 years and even worse if you don't live in the town ~11 years last I heard. Those are for the public lots, some towns have private lots, Matawan was a 3 year wait for a spot in one of those and a bunch more money $100 or so a month (thats ontop of a ~$250 a month train ticket). You can bribe yourself into some of the private lots, but like all bribes that can be risky.

Also make sure that the line you will be taking has regular hours, some of them don't run until late at night or if they do they are very far apart.

Good luck.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Rob, as a point of information, the current Fog Creek office is 1800 square feet in a brownstone on two floors, with a terrific 17 x 50 garden. The closest thing to a house in midtown Manhattan.

When we move out next month it will be renovated into a 3 bedroom 3 bath house with new everything -- sounds like the right size for your family. The rent will probably be around $5500/month.

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Joel... I think that's a bad example. I mean, NOBODY lives in midtown manhattan except executives, and other highly paid people who enjoy spending their money.

Though that actually strikes me as a reasonable price for what it is... Nevermind that it costs more than my takehome pay from my last job.
Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Mark - Don't forget Connecticut. Probably 10's of thousands of people take the train and drive into the city from CT. The people who drive are crazy. Getting a parking permit can also be tough up here but that's probably not the smartest way to go about it. You are already dropping a few hundred dollars/month for the montly train pass + metrocard. What you want to do is carpool or get your significant other to drop you off at the station, or live within walking distance (like I do!). You can also find creative places to park for free near train stations.

I live in Statford, CT which is near the end of the line and is 85 minutes to midtown manhattan. Add another 20 minutes to your commute to get to Wall St. You could aim for Stamford, CT and cut the train ride down to around 50 minutes. Housing can be as much as twice as expensive in Stamford as it is in Stratford! I go into the city around once a week and the commute is really managable. Especially balanced against working from home or in an office 25 minutes away by car the rest of the week.

Anyway, it sounds like the poster won't be moving our way.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Find out where you're going to be located... just because you're working for a financial company does not mean you'll be working near wall street.  Lots of very big name banks (Morgan Stanley, Citibank, Bear Sterns, the list goes on...) are all located in midtown.

michael hickin
Saturday, July 26, 2003

good point, Michael. I'd assumed since he said Wall Street, he knew beforehand that he was going to be on Wall Street.

Citigroup has offices in Queens, New Jersey, Conneticut.... UBS Paine Webber also has offices in Jersey, and so forth.

I think there are a lot of server farms for both companies in Weehawken, New Jersey for some reason... Perhaps there's some sort of internet backbone out there.

The problem with Weehawken is that it's only accessible via Ferry. And the Ferry is a good 4 or more LONG city blocks from the closest subway, which means you also have to take a bus. Which means... you have to  add a half hour or more to your commute. My friend lives near my, my commute was about an hour, no matter where in the city I worked. Her commute was 2 hours. She would leave for work around 6-7am, and get home around 8-9pm. She started to hate her life not long after that. She quit her job and she's much happier now.
Saturday, July 26, 2003

> lives near my

lives near me.
Saturday, July 26, 2003

If you have school age kids, you probably don't want to live in the outer borroughs (brooklyn, queens, etc.).  I love the part of Brooklyn I live in, and it is considered a very good neighborhood, but I know I have to leave before my daughter reaches school age.  Even though the housing prices are above a million in some cases, only 60% of the kids read at grade level.  The schools have to get better, but it will take time.  Even if you can afford private school, it is still a gamble that you can get your kid into one. 

I believe the school situation in the suburbs is much better, but definitely do your homework before moving somewhere.  Everyone is looking for good schools and good access to commuter rail, so those are factors that drive housing prices up.

Keith Wright
Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I have friends in the educational system... I would mostly be worried about school violence in the more urban areas. Many of the local public high schools have metal detectors... A bad sign.

Aside from that, I think a child often takes away from school what they put into it. Stick them in front of Sesame Street and read to them and they'll do well in school. I went in knowing the alphabet and how to read.

The reading is standardized, and is sort of scary... Track down the video of George Bush ignoring the report that the world trade center was hit, the 5+ minute version that shows him sitting in front of the classroom. It shows the bizarre way they're teaching kids to read these days. I asked my friend about it, and she says it's standardized to do it that way.
Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Thanks for the advice everyone. I think I have to take a hard look at relocation. It seems that staying behind to do support remotely only means a short reprieve before a layoff notice would be headed my way.

I did find out that the new office is in Midtown, which (correct me if I'm wrong here) means that I need to get to Grand Central, which makes the Jersey 'burbs less attractive because most of the Jersey trains go into Penn station.

One big question that's going around the office is about the commuter tax: Is it really dead? We all pay a flat 1% (commuters and residents, alike) to the city of St. Louis, for very little in return. So it would seem outrageous to us that commuters pay nothing to the city of New York.


Rob VH
Saturday, August 2, 2003

Rob, forget your concerns re: Grand Central / Midtown. You can live in suburbia in Connecticut, Yonkers, New Jersey, or Long Island, and have commute of about an hour. New York's subways are fast, convenient, relatively cheap, completely safe (especially the locations and times you would be travelling) and, um, only sometimes smell like urine. So you can easily, easily, I can't stress how easily, get from Penn Station to most any midtown location (or Wall St. or any other major center of business)

Here's a real-life example: I grew up in the middle of Nassau County on Long Island. I had the absolute typical suburban upbringing, with great schools, parks, sports, shopping malls, etc. The local Long Island Rail Road station was under five minutes away by car. From there, it's 37 minutes by train to Penn Station. Hopping on a subway at Penn during rush hour, I could get to the World Trade Center area in ten minutes, the Grand Central area in fifteen, or Wall Street in fifteen. (Note: to get to Wall Street even faster, take the LIRR to Brooklyn and use the subway to cross the river)

Oh, and while a one-hour car commute would be rough, a one-hour train commute really isn't so bad. You can read, etc. It's a relaxing way to wind down at the end of the day and a good time to drink your coffee, read the paper, and get fired up at the beginning.

Re: taxes, sorry, you're SOL. Taxes are horrendous here. But such cost-of-living matters are usually factored into your salary.

Mike Schiraldi
Sunday, August 3, 2003

> One big question that's going around the office is about the commuter tax: Is it really dead?

Dude, are you barking up the wrong tree.  Your 1800 sq ft house will run you $550k in a decent neighborhood in the suburbs., 

Basically, you are fucked.  AT ALL COSTS, do not relocate.  Unless they double your salary, or you dont mind living in a 1BR apt.  Living in NYC is out of the question.  Just depends if you can handle a 1 1/2 hour 1 way commute.  Probably not, if you like seeing your family on weeknights. 

Look for another job in STL.  Trust me, getting relocated to NYC is a dead end for you.  Same pay, QUADRUPLE the mortgage. 

Friday, August 8, 2003


I'm not nearly so pessimistic. I expect to get a decent bump in my base salary (not sure exactly how much yet). Also, I'm in the investment management field, and I get pretty large bonuses each year (which I don't need to live on, they're gravy). I've figured out that I will have a long commute, and I think I can hack it, at least for a few years.

I've seen all the wailing and moaning about job insecurity on JoS. I'm now 3 years on my way to being a domain expert on quantitative investment and equity trading. If I get a position with a body shop in StL (which is the most likely outcome), I'm back at square zero, as I see it. The job market here is crappy.

BTW: I think that with a 90 minute commute, I can get quite a nice house for less than $400k. I guess we shall see...

Rob VH
Friday, August 8, 2003

Bella is always pessimistic. I agree that housing in NYC is rediculous, and so are commute times. It's a simple supply/demand equation really. Millions of people fighting for very little space.

Be careful about that 1.5 hr commute. My friend had a 2 hour commute and started to hate her life soon after... Leave at 7am, get home at 8 or 9 pm - nobody goes home at 5, spend 2 hours before passing out and doing it over again.
Friday, August 8, 2003

City income tax is 3 1/2 percent.  There is also a city mortgage tax of 2-3%.  Sales tax of 8.625% (half of that goes to the state).  Property tax is 1.1%

I guess I will have paid about 7% of my income direct to New York city, and slightly more than that to the state.  and do I get a decent school for it, Nooooo.  The elementary school my child is zoned for only has 15% percent of kids reading at grade level.

NYC is for suckers.

Keith Wright
Friday, August 8, 2003

> NYC is for suckers.

Dem's fighting words.
Friday, August 8, 2003

I agree that it is nice to preserve your seniority.  And if the job market in STL sucks, then what can you do. 

I do suggest you talk to as many people as possible, in terms of where to live, and not just realtors.  There ARE decent towns , that are not so high on the radar of most NYC'ers.  Ie: more moderately priced ....Im saying if you are willing to drive another 20-30 mins out., you can avoid the name-brand "top shelf" towns, where a house is minimum $800k.  If you want a house with 2 floors (ie: not a ranch), you can expect to start at $450k.  I hope you can use your large cash bonuses to pay off the house in cash.  Then, your cost of living might not matter as much. 

Also, make sure you know what a 90 min commmute is like,  Saying it is nothing, but above poster is right...Even if you leave a 6:30pm., you're not home until 8pm.  Im  not sure if thats what youre used to in STL, but no more family dinnners, etc  with a 90 min commute...

And make sure you properly estimate the DOOR 2 DOOR.  I had a 45 min ride into Grand Central.  But all in all, it was 90 mins door 2 door commute.  (walk to train, wait for train, walk to subway, wait for subway, walk to office...)  It can add up.

I guess check out and try a few different towns...But you really need to know a local who can tell you the "real deal" on particular towns, b/c ANY town can be dressed up to be nice quaint in a realtor brochure, or weekender town review..

Monday, August 11, 2003

In my suburbs,,,Under $400k is not going to happen.  Maybe a 2BR ranch......Maybe in Jersey or LI....I cant speak for those areas.  DEpends if you want to live in a welfare town....(for lack of better, more politicallly correct verbiage)

Monday, August 11, 2003

I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, and I know a lot of people selling their houses there... I think you can get something decent for around $350 - $450.

Decent being 2 floors, small back yard, driveway, front porch, 10 -15 minute walk from the train, approx 1 hour total commute to most places in the city, near local facilities like restaurants, supermarkets, churches etc. If you're willing to buy now, I know someone selling a very nice house, 3 floors, large (by Brooklyn standards) yard... but I don't know their asking price.

Though the neighborhood has a tendancy to be overrun by immigrants - when I grew up it was entirely Italian... the kind that only speak English. Now it's mostly Russian, the kind that speak very little English.

You probably won't be so crazy about the local public schools, but that's probably a problem in most of NYC.

This area is overlooked by most people, but it's really quite nice. Right by the bay, not too far from the beach, etc. etc. Brooklyn is filled with neighborhoods similar to this one. You can also find neighbrhoods towards the end of Queens that are a bus to train commute, but with nice sized houses.
Monday, August 11, 2003

I'm feeling like a manic-depressive lately. Except that my up and down cycles last about a day. Jazzed one day, and scared shitless the next.

Thanks everyone for the helpful suggestions.

Rob VH
Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Bella, thanks for the suggestions on the "real-deal". Fortunately, the programmer that I work with the most closely is a NY native, who is able to give me an honest appraisal of the areas.

I think for the most part, (and I've spent hours looking at real-estate listings), you get what you pay for. And the areas that are undesirable in terms of crime or whatever, seem to have to discount their prices to attract buyers.

But I don't have to pick a town just yet. I just have to figure out what decent housing would likely cost vs. how much am I likely to get my employer to pay me... and hope that mortgage rates don't continue to go through the friggin' roof in the near future...

Rob VH
Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Rob, what is your salary now (including average bonus)?
And what kind of COLA do you expect when you relocate?

You basically want a 3BR house within 90 minutes of NYC, right?  How much cash do you have to put towards a home purchase, including the proceeds from the sale of your equity in your current home?  Or, what is the bottom line in what you can afford to pay for monthly housing expenses?

Will you need 2 family cars?  Do you already have that?  Did you get a quote on auto insurance for 2 cars in the NY area?  I may be more...Depends if you need comp/collission also.  (Not sure if you own your cars, or if they're new and/or leased....) 

Yea, you have reason to be scared...You MUST find out if the numbers will work.  Getting some paltry $25k raise wont cover it......An extra $1500/mo after taxes....Not that much,,,,,

Also, does your wife  work?  Does she plan to work in NYC?

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


I'm asking/hoping for about 50% COLA. Auto insurance goes up by about 50%, but that's really insignificant compared to the new mortgage. I have 2 cars, but could get by with one. My wife stays home with the kids, which is the way we want things to remain.

I mentioned a bonus, but I can't count on that to live. They're really a form of profit-sharing.

I've run the numbers a hundred times. If I get 50%, I figure I'll have enough to buy a house in the 400-425k range (giving me a $360k+ mortgage, yikes!), plus pay the extra commute (I figure train fare and parking will cost about double my current gas and parking).

I'm feeling pretty good at the moment. Although our business is investment management, we are very technology driven. The other developer and I would be more difficult to replace than just about anyone else in the group (other than the research staff). I think I'm in a pretty decent bargaining position.

Am I about right on the estimate for housing? From what I've seen on the internet real estate sites, 400k buys a pretty decent house in a lot of towns within an hour of the city...

Rob VH
Wednesday, August 13, 2003

>  I think I'm in a pretty decent bargaining position.

I think whenever an employee says that, it means they're not... Maybe management will realize how dependant they are on this particular group of people and want start some sort of knowledge sharing with a younger, less expensive generation of programmers...

$400k is reasonable for a house abt an hour from the city. I don't know what you expect the size to be like, or the size of the yard, etc.

Have you done any research into the educational system here? Have you thought of taking a scouting trip?
Wednesday, August 13, 2003

> with a younger, less expensive generation of programmers...

You're right. I just turned 30 this year, and this funny-looking crystal on my hand started blinking... :)

Rob VH
Wednesday, August 13, 2003

> I'm asking/hoping for about 50% COLA
> I think I'm in a pretty decent bargaining position.

Rob,  You need to be more confident.  You need to come up with a bottom line COLA, and quit if they do not give it to you.  B/c relocating without proper funding will be a ticking timebomb.  What areas are you considering?  NJ, LI, Westchester?

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

I'm right there with you, Bella. Fifty percent is pretty much the bottom line. If they won't go for that, I will take my chances where I'm at now. I have no intention of dragging my family halfway across country for a crappy deal. If I'm right about how much they want me to relocate, I should get what I'm looking for, if not, so be it, I'll start trying to find other work.

I am looking/thinking primarily in NY state. I like the look of the area, and I have good sources of information (former residents) on the various towns.

I think we've pretty well exhausted this thread. If you'd like to contact me offline, the email link is valid.


Rob VH
Wednesday, August 13, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home