I wish to address two problems as briefly as possible: how Ashley and I responded to moving between cities under a crunch, and that people post their responses to their situations too quickly, which makes it difficult to gauge how accurate any given response is.
Ashley and I moved to Jersey City from Dorchester, MA in August 2010. In some ways, it was better than my move to Boston from Dallas because I had more lead time to know it was coming (two months vs. two weeks). On the other hand, having a significant other I had to consider made the going more difficult.
Ashley provided these challenges:
-that we disagreed on when we should move
-that I needed to get a larger place than I might otherwise have looked for
-that she brought two cats
-that she needed to be able to commute to Montclair, NJ for school
So we needed to find a place that was pet friendly, large enough for two people, a medium-sized dog, and two cats, and within a reasonable commute from Montclair. I, of course, intended to work in the city proper. The most ideal choice for this arrangement, geographically and by available transit, was Newark, but we have enough friends and family knowledgeable about Jersey to warn us off of that choice (crime, neighborhood quality, etc). So we were limited to Jersey City or Hoboken.
Hoboken has an average rate, for one-bedrooms, between 1300-1600 and can cost more depending on how nice you want to go. Downtown Jersey City is in the same price range, and Ashley and I were trying to keep our rent closer to $900-1200. Therefore, Jersey City Heights was the most ideal neighborhood.
However, Ashley was working and attending school, and I was piecing together my memoir for submission to Emerson, and we were tight on cash regardless of the time constraints, so we could only realistically make one trip to Jersey in order to make our decision. We decided to go with real estate agents since we couldn’t research any of the places ourselves, and we set up three appointments with three different agents (not ideal, but all of the agents were returning different locations so it was difficult to limit the appointments to one). We also scheduled to see a fourth apartment, shown by the building manager instead of an agent. As the date came, all of the agents cancelled, so we were left with only one appointment: the one shown by the building manager.
In most cases I would recommend this tactic, all considered. You get to meet the person responsible for your apartment’s upkeep, and no agents means no negotiating over fees means that you can keep discussions about price limited to per month and utilities. The apartment we saw was nice enough, but the neighborhood put me off, as did the manager, but choice was not on our side at that point: Ashley loved the unit, and we decided that we would do whatever it took to make at least the first year work. So we signed the papers, for better or worse.
Over the six months, my hesitation about both the neighborhood and the building manager proved pretty true to point, so I always urge you to trust your instincts insofar as your situation allows you to. Jersey City Heights (the cliffs above Hoboken) provide good access to Manhattan but only decent access to Hoboken–the 87 bus is not reliable but is the only constant mass transit down the cliffs to the city. To get out to Montclair, Ashley has to get the 87 into Hoboken: it comes only on a sporadic schedule, maybe on time 1 out of 3 time slots, and those changing day by day. NJ trains seem to be reliable, though, so there’s that, at least.
Therefore, when you move to a new city, be sure to thoroughly research your neighborhood, your landlord, and your transit situation. If you don’t have an adequate knowledge of these variables, you’re putting yourself at risk of a shock the moment you land.