A big city apartment at Wisconsin prices

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When Florence Chan left New Jersey for Wisconsin in 2015, she never imagined returning to her home state.

Ms. Chan, 28, a UX designer, grew up in Milltown, just outside New Brunswick, and attended college next door at Rutgers University. Like many others who grew up in small towns – Milltown is only a square mile and has 7,000 residents – she was ready to get out and do something new.

As a child, Ms. Chan regularly visited Manhattan with her family and “always wanted to live in a bigger, busier city,” she said. “When I grew up in New Jersey, I didn’t particularly like the state itself. Even as an adult, I thought, ‘I’ll never move back to Jersey.’ “

But last August, she and her fiancé Paul Smirl, who grew up in Wisconsin, moved to an apartment in Hoboken, NJ, 45 minutes from their parents’ home and across the river from New York City. This unexpected step was facilitated by a series of fortunate coincidences.

Ms. Chan and Mr. Smirl spent six years in Madison, Wisconsin, serving as a software tester for a technology company and as a marketing content writer for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Business School. But Madison was starting to feel small, and they wanted to find a place with more activities, more restaurants to try, and a little more anonymity. They thought of Chicago, where Mr. Smirl had spent some time in college, and Philadelphia, which was close to Mrs. Chan’s family in New Jersey. New York City eventually got on the list too.

Ms. Chan hoped that a change would coincide with a career change. she eventually took courses to become a UX designer – a role that helps determine how a website or product works and feels to users – and has recently started doing it for the wedding registration page Zola.

In the second half of 2020, Ms. Chan regularly searched online property listings in all three cities and quickly learned that Chicago and Philadelphia could get more bang for the buck.

But then they went to see Ms. Chan’s family in New Jersey over the holidays last winter, and she cried on the long drive back to Wisconsin. She missed her family more than she realized. Philadelphia and Chicago were soon removed from the list, and Mrs. Chan and Mr. Smirl decided to focus on New York.

The couple began searching for real estate listings in New York City. They were looking for something roughly the same price as the three-bedroom house they shared in Madison for $ 1,800 a month.

They knew they would have a lot less space in New York, but they were hoping to find a one-bedroom in their price range. At first they couldn’t think of the view over the Hudson River. “I assumed Jersey was over my budget,” said Ms. Chan. So she kept her eyes – and her search parameters – on Brooklyn and Queens.

Last spring, on another trip home to New Jersey, Ms. Chan hung out with her best friend from high school, Kat Schneider. Mrs. Schneider and her husband were about to move into an apartment in a Hoboken building that belonged to her husband’s aunt. Another apartment, just above hers, had just opened.

Ms. Chan and Mr. Smirl were interested and impressed with the amount of space they could get for what they paid for in Madison. The apartment above Ms. Schneider’s apartment, a flexible two-bedroom apartment, was $ 1,800 a month. Instead of squeezing into a small apartment in Brooklyn, they could have a kitchen, living room, and bedroom, as well as a dining room and office – both of which still work from home.

It was a theft and they knew it.


$ 1,800 | Hoboken, New Jersey

Jobs: Ms. Chan is a UX designer; Mr. Smirl is a content writer.

Additional bonus: You will enjoy enough space to work comfortably at home.

A walking tour of Hoboken: “Around the corner from us is Dom’s Bakery, which has been around for a long time and sells the best focaccia,” said Ms. Chan. “We get our coffee from The Little Local, which sells fresh beans and always smells great. And then there is the farmers’ market once a week on the church square – the four of us all go together. “


Ms. Chan now laughs and describes how she found a place in the building where her best friend from high school lives. As a teenager, she said, “We said, ‘Oh, it would be so cool if one day we all lived in town!'”

She and Ms. Schneider attended high school and college together, but since Ms. Schneider commuted to Rutgers, there was never an opportunity to be roommates. When they explain their living situation to acquaintances, there is a common answer: People compare it to the TV show “Friends”. In fact, a lot of people come by during the week to say hello or share a meal.

And Hoboken has proven to be an ideal home for Ms. Chan and Mr. Smirl. “It’s close to the city, but it feels quieter, more like a city,” said Ms. Chan.

Life is slower than Manhattan, she said, and the neighborhood is full of young families and people walking their dogs. She and Mr. Smirl enjoyed exploring their new neighborhood on foot, particularly the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway, a green space that follows the river for more than 18 miles.

And her parents are thrilled; they visit almost every weekend. Sometimes the whole family ventures into town together for lunch or touring Chelsea’s art galleries. Or they visit Ms. Chan’s extended family in Queens.

Ms. Chan now sees New Jersey for what it is: an excellent place to call home, and a stone’s throw from the familiar and the new.


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