The Hunt: Escape From the Holland Tunnel

The Hunt: Escape From the Holland Tunnel

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After a year, her roommate left for business school and her boyfriend, Andrew Bengtsen, joined her. He had been sharing a place in the East Village with roommates.

The couple, now in their late 20s, paid $2,800 a month. The apartment had high ceilings and charming details, but the light was dim, the counter space nonexistent and the living room big enough only for a table and love seat.

“The honking was brutal,” said Mr. Bengtsen, who is originally from Chicago and works for Mashable on the business side.

WEST VILLAGE The price was high, and the space was small.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Construction added to the din. Once, when Ms. Ross’s parents were visiting from Seattle, they arrived at bedtime, just as overnight jackhammering was beginning in the street. “The next time my parents visited, they stayed in a hotel,” she said.

The couple knew none of their neighbors. Turnover in the building was high. Last spring, as the weather warmed and the honking worsened, they hit their breaking point. They were desperate to escape.

They were hoping for a one-bedroom downtown in the low- to mid-$3,000 range, preferably with some light, a decent kitchen and a place for friends to sit. Any location, they figured, would have less honking.

“I didn’t care about having a big bedroom,” Mr. Bengtsen said. “I cared about having friends over or a place to hang out on a Sunday, instead of feeling, ‘I’ve got to get out of the apartment.’”

Chinatown offered an abundance of good food and good subway access, too. Mr. Bengtsen found a listing for a one-bedroom on Mott Street for $2,700. The street was busy, but “I wasn’t as afraid of actual street noise,” he said. “It was the honking that was crazy.”

They didn’t mind climbing to a high floor, but they did mind the size. “This was just too small to be worth making the move for,” said Ms. Ross, who was less amenable to such a bustling area.

Two similar and tiny one-bedrooms were available in a quaint building on Bedford Street in the West Village, for $3,500 and $3,700. “We were looking for something we both loved,” Ms. Ross said. “This didn’t feel like the right fit and seemed expensive for what it was.”

And Mr. Bengtsen preferred the East Village, anyway. “I was interested in cheaper groceries, dive bars, more approachable restaurants — that kind of stuff,” he said.

EAST VILLAGE An apartment just the right size was on a quiet block.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

So they walked over to see a one-bedroom there. The block was beautiful and quiet. Inside, workers were finishing a gut renovation. The unit, which was $3,674 a month, had plenty of light, a nice kitchen (with an unexpected dishwasher) and a big living room. They were given the option of having a wall of closets added in the bedroom.

“The apartment didn’t stay on the market long,” said the listing agent, Nicholas Dalton Lee, a salesman at Sierra Residential, as the couple applied immediately.

“Katie was on the verge of tears, she was so excited about the place,” Mr. Bengtsen said.

They arrived in early summer, paying a broker’s fee of 15 percent of the annual rent, or around $6,600. Their former landlord waived his usual lease-break fee, two months’ rent.

At the old place, “I assumed they were going to hike the rent up, but they didn’t,” Ms. Ross said. Instead, it had dropped to $2,475, but even so, “the noise didn’t make it worth it.”

Now, the two can cook and entertain friends. They can sleep. They can hang out on a Sunday.

“I feel like we lucked out,” Ms. Ross said. “Even if we had kept looking for months, I don’t think we would have found such a perfect fit.”

Occasionally, they do hear late-night drinkers from the nearby bars, but there is almost no honking. Compared with before, Mr. Bengtsen said, “it’s like we are living in the middle of nowhere.”

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