Info on Relocating From ‘burbs to Brooklyn

I am looking to relocate to Brooklyn from conservative Lancaster Co, PA. I would prefer to do this after my daughter graduates in about 4 years. As a single person I know this will be financially difficult given the cost of living is so much higher and the lifestyle is different than living in the suburbs where I am now. I really need to plan well for this life changing move and needed advice from locals on how to proceed. I do not have a degree and would need to look for an entry-mid level clerical/accounting job and would like to know to the best sites/classifieds/places to find work. In addition I only have explored the Park Slope and Ft Greene neighborhoods but know they are more expensive than others. Can anyone give me any insight into the different neighborhoods, vibes, lifestyles, and cultures? As a newcomer is it better to keep my car or rely on public transportation? Is street parking readily available and safe? As you can tell I have a lot of questions on lifestyle changes. Any advice is appreciated.

31 Replies

  1. Being a single, middle-aged woman in Brooklyn can be an interesting life. Even on not a lot of income.

    But Brooklyn may not be the place you want to live in 4 years. Affordable neighborhoods in NY change all the time. By the time you get here, a better choice may well be in NJ, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island or Westchester. Some would argue they are better choices even now for someone used to suburban life, and/or on an entry-level income. (Better in the sense of more decent-sized housing in better renovated shape, in a fairly nice neighborhood, for less money, yet still within a relatively short and easy commute to Manhattan where the jobs are.)

    But it will only be an interesting life on entry or mid-level income if your expectations are seriously lowered. On everything – amount of space, how renovated it is, how quiet, perceived safety of your neighborhood, and what you can afford to do with what little income you will have left after paying for housing. You will have to be very happy just being in NYC, spending little, and doing a lot of free or cheap stuff. If that’s what you value, you won’t be miserable – you’ll have a lot of fun. (If you want a decent-sized, nice home, a car, a really nice neighborhood, and spending money, and to be able to save for retirement, you may well be miserable.) I’m afraid from your questions that you maybe don’t get it yet. Owning a car (much less paying to park it somewhere) is usually not compatible with entry or mid-level income in NYC. (But neither do you actually need a car if you work in the city.) Also not compatible is having your own space, or even nice roommate shares, in neighborhoods anything like Park Slope or Fort Greene.

    Finding work will likely be extremely difficult. Not impossible, just very, very difficult, and may take many months. People generally really do prefer to hire the young. Don’t commit to moving until you find work. Come for awhile, get a furnished sublet from someone going away for a few months (today from craigslist, who knows in 4 years? – the web won’t be the same in 4 years!) and look for work every day, full-time. Find another subjet when that one ends, until you find work. Once you find it, decide if you can stand the job and income you have, and then decide if you can permenantly relocate to NY. You really cannot even talk about neighborhoods, as mentioned above, until you know your income.

    Expect your actual transition to NY to take a few years. Your first home probably won’t be one you want to stay in long term. You may need to get a job, and then look for a job with a higher salary, maybe twice, in order to rent/buy a home you want.

  2. On nabewise.com there are summaries of each neighborhood in Brooklyn (and NYC as well as other large cities in the US). The site has neighborhood “reviews” posted by the people that live there. What I think is interesting, is how sentiments change with the changing population and perception of each area. For example, Bed-Stuy (which is an area I’m interested in buying in) went from mixed sentiments of “dangerous”, “community”, and “ghetto” to “hipster”, “artist”, and “funky” within the past year! I think the site offers a good gauge of the overall feel of an area and how residents perceive it as well as where things are headed.

  3. Thinking over what Snowboardqueen said, yes, it’s true — it’s hard to move here in 40s, single, and with no connections formed in youth. You will be busy working. Food and going out and everything is so expensive. It’s hard to run errands. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Of course you need the job first. I’d advise getting a REALLY SMALL STUDIO in a convenient, safe, central location you like so you don’t have to take taxis, and you are close to good grocery options and inexpensive restaurants (tacos?) that work for you.

  4. @snowboardqueen

    Your post gave me ALOT to think about…thanks for not sugarcoating realty.

    I’m wondering….we are the same age, from the same hometown, do we know each other?

  5. In addition to the websites mentioned above, sign up for couchsurfing.com to visit.

  6. My partner and I (both male mid 40’s) moved to Brooklyn from a very conservative area of the south 4 years ago for a year (after coming here for over 10 years prior and staying with friends all the time) and lived in Williamsburg in a tiny apartment (new though) and paid $1750 a month. And i do mean TINY – you had to move our fullsize bed in the sleeping loft just to get into the closet, and the “living room” was 8 x 8 but it did have a washer/dryer which although are very common in 1972 mobile homes in all other areas of the country, are seen as a luxury here. We were unable to find anything we were willing to buy at the time for the prices they were asking (seriously over a million for something needing torn down in Williamsburg back then). So we moved back to the south for a couple years but missed the city so much that we returned.

    This time we moved to Greenpoint (adjoins Williamsburg), and prices have improved somewhat. We are currently renting a nice new condo with washer dryer, 2 bedrooms, in a great secure building in a safe neighborhood for $2900 which includes a parking space in the garage – although honestly we have driven the car 3 times since moving back last year and that is just to keep the battery charged. Parking is a nightmare if you actually want to stop somewhere and aren’t just driving around, and if you rent something that only has street parking you’ll be moving your car 4 times a week for street cleaning or else get ticketed. Another problem with street parking is that the car behind you or in front of you might use their car to push yours out of the way to get into or out of their spot because there are no lined parking spaces anywhere in the city, so make sure if you do bring a car that it’s not your most expensive prized possession. It will get scratched and dented, count on it. Driving isn’t a problem as long as you remember 3 things: no right turn on red ANYWHERE, passing on the right around a stopped car at an intersection is LEGAL and REQUIRED, and painted lines are only a suggestion. lol Most streets are 1 way though and traffic moves decently in the actual neighborhood areas. However, public transport (train and bus) is so much easier and cheaper and truly there is no reason for a car here.

    We just went into contract on a 1920’s attached wood frame townhouse over in Williamsburg for $689K that needs updating but is actually in good shape and will close on in next month (street parking which means we will probably try to sell the car). This area of Brooklyn is very easy to commute to Manhattan on the L train and has its own share of good bars, nightlife, shopping, and restaurants and things to do. But it is pricier than other areas due to the current “hip” factor -lots of artists, musicians, actors, etc in this area. I have worked with NYC schools in every Brooklyn neighborhood as well as in the other boroughs and I can definitely say that neighborhoods can change rapidly from one year to the next both for better and for worse, so 4 years from now you will really want to do your homework and don’t go by price alone – usually there’s a reason prices are cheaper. Williamsburg was a gang infested ghetto in the 90’s and earlier, but now it’s as safe as Manhattan, and our 15 y/o son goes to school here and loves it. You can stagger home at 4 am and you will still see hundreds of nice people milling around everywhere. Overall, Brooklyn is a great place to live. Lots of friendly people, neighborly, helpful to newbies, and even in the currently “bad” neighborhoods people are pretty much the same during the daylight hours. But after dark some neighborhoods change drastically once all those nice people lock themselves in their homes. Listing the good and bad neighborhoods today could be totally opposite of what they would be like in 4 years. Another thing that bugs the hell out of me about Brooklyn is that much like small towns in the south, the stores all close and roll up the sidewalks around dark. Where we lived in the south – a college town of about 30K people – there was always a 24 hour Walmart, grocery store, gas station, pharmacy – but in Brooklyn everything but the bars and restaurants close at dark so you have to go to midtown Manhattan to find anything like that open all night (with a few sparse exceptions like a few corner bodegas). Brooklyn definitely isn’t the city that never sleeps.

    So I would say, follow your heart and come to Brooklyn. We haven’t regretted it a bit and you will love it here, just be careful when moving time comes to ask around. I would also follow the advice of others and come here as much as you can between now and then to get a feel for it, and once you do decide to move here and think you’ve found a place, be sure to visit it around midnight to 4 am if you are the type who would be out at that time.

  7. Go for it! Follow your gut instincts. If you love an urban lifestyle, Bkln will do the trick. Best thing about NYC is, there is more of everything here. I was a single mom for a while and am glad I had the city and its many diversions (as well as friends I made who were in the same position) during those years to fall back on. I’m a PA girl but always gravitated towards cities – and feel so good about raising my son in a place that is diverse in so many ways. The world is changing – but he won’t have to adjust as he gets older… It’s all here right now.

  8. Go for it! Follow your gut instincts. If you love an urban lifestyle, Bkln will do the trick. Best thing about NYC is, there is more of everything. I was a single mom for a while and am glad I had the city and its many diversions (as well as friends I made who were in the same position) during those years to fall back on. I’m a PA girl but always gravitated towards cities – and feel so good about raising my son in a place that is diverse in so many ways. The world is changing – but he won’t have to adjust as he gets older… It’s all here right now.

  9. I am in a similar situation to yours. I live in Reading PA and I am seriously considering moving to Brooklyn hopefuly in 2 yrs. I asked the same questions about a couple of months ago and all these fine people on this site gave me terrific advice. My son lives in Brooklyn Heights but that is too expensive for my budget except you can’t beat the location for commuting to Manhattan. I plan to do what everyone is saying. In April after tax season I am going to come and explore all the different neighborhoods that I have read about on brownstoner. If you go on the rental listings it gives you an idea of the housing prices in each neighborhood. I can’t wait to leave Reading to be my true self a city girl.

  10. Do you have any friends in Brooklyn? If not, try to make some that you can visit frequently to acquire?a feel of the borough.

    You need to form a realistic picture of BK, than can cone with frequent visits.

    I to left the Lancaster Co, Pa area for NYC.., but I was 20 yrs old, rents were dirt cheap – I moved to a large garden apt in East village for $450 in 1991, I was a former child actress – ie had deep creative conections and found acquiring work a breeze in tv & film or then then lucrative paying night clubs.

    In a nutshell, for an extroverted, popular, connected 20 yo with low expenses and easy access to lucarative cash paying gigs – NYC was a total blast!

    20 yrs later, I still Love the city.., but I have solidified all my contacts made in my 20’s. Being a middle age woman on a limited income, who has to work 5 days a week to barely earn a living, NYC may not be all that you hope for.

    You may have to work very hard at a 9-5 to pay your for your share in a roommate situation, in a crummy apt in a neighborhood you do not enjoy. Also, if you are not an extrovert with alot of free time, and extra cash does not hurt, it may be hard to meet people.

    I know single people in their 40’s, making an average salary, 50 – 70k, who are mistable in NYC. Unfortunately, the City favors, the young & connected and always financially set of any age.

    If you can cultivate a group of like minded friends, you may love the City.., but if free tine, money, connections, an extroverted personality are not on your side, you may find yourself lonely, yet surrounded by a city of millions.

    I definitely would approach the move slowly with lots of pratical preparation. Also, it’s not fair or legal, but age discrimination still exist on the work force. Make sure you can find a position with a company you like and pays what your position and experience warrant before you cement that move.

    I’m not trying to sound horribly negative, but no degree and middle age, moving to a new city with no contacts.., you will haveto think creatively out of te box to make it work on a pratorical level.

    My sister brought a lovely 5 family, 4 bath house on an acre of land in a very nice suburb of PA for less than $400,000. Where in Brooklyn, there are some condos – ie small dorm size boxes – that begin in that range, not to mention what the neighborhood may or may not be like.

    Visit as much as you can. Try to make friends who live in BK to hear diverse stories of their different BK affairs, meaning how it does and does not work for them.

    Best of Luck as every journey begins with the 1st step.

  11. My family has had a similar experience. I am a native Manhattanite; my husband and I lived in Cobble Hill when we were first married and then moved to the North Shore of Long Island and raised three children. We moved back to Brooklyn four years ago. One of our sons went to Pratt and stayed in Clinton Hill; the other graduated from college is working in NYC as an environmental engineer; and our daughter is in her junior year in college. Returning to Brooklyn has been the best thing for our family; the kids love it here. We appreciate having so much nearby (no more driving many miles every day). I would think there is no bad choice of neighborhood; all the best of luck to you.

  12. Until you have a job, you don’t have a budget and until you have a budget, you don’t have the first criterion you need to select a neighborhood. The neighborhood part is easy. It’s the job part that’s hard. I would suggest that you focus your attention there. I know several middle aged people with degrees and experience who have been looking for jobs for a long while.

  13. BK neighborhoods less costly than Slope/Cobble Hill etc. but sufficiently urban might include Greenwood Heights, Ditmas Park, Prospect Lefferts, Crown Heights North, Bed-Stuy, edges of Clinton Hill such as Wallabout. Yes, visit a lot, and don’t overlook Queens (Astoria, Long ISland City).

  14. Amazingly it seems everyone here is in agreement for once! I agree with all the stuff about coming as much as you can to see the different neighborhoods, and, yes, even Queens! Also remember that Jersey City is a short PATH subway ride away and is quite an urban setting (don’t tell anyone I said this, or they’ll kick me out of NY).

    Do check out zipcar.com. My family and I use it for ad hoc regional trips, such as picking relatives up at the airport, shopping at Fairway in Red Hook, or just taking a day trip somewhere that public transport would be inconvenient.

    Further to Rob’s point about, if you have four years, is there any way you can work toward a degree in Lancaster? I did a quick google search, and it seems there are a number of colleges in the region. Maybe one has an evening or part-time program? There should also be all kinds of aid available to help with the cost, too.

    Good luck! In my experience, every fantasy I had about how I might live my life as an adult (from living in Manhattan, to living in a brownstone, to owning a convertible (not at the same time!), to being a husband and father) has turned out as good or better than I expected. I hope you find the same joy.

  15. Locals? They no longer exists. You are looking for answers from people just like you. Stay in Pa.

  16. Locals? They no longer exists. You are looking for answers from people just like you. Stay in Pa.

  17. I wholeheartedly second all the advice about reading the linked blogs from different neighborhoods.

    Consider if you will work in Manhattan and how important Manhattan will be to your life. If you plan to be there every day during the work week, factor in how much of a commute you can tolerate. If you don’t think you’ll be commuting to Manhattan every day or you don’t mind an hour or so on a train or bus, a more outer-lying neighborhood like Bay Ridge would give you a lot of what you look for for a lot less money than Ft. Greene or Park Slope.

    Also bear in mind that once you’re here, if you don’t like the ‘hood you’re in, you can move. It’s inconvenient and may not suit your budget, but most of us did not move here from elsewhere, set down in one neighborhood and never leave it. It’s common to move from one neighborhood to another as your likes/needs change or as the neighborhood changes. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself that you must find The One on your first date, so to speak.

    I’ll also say for the record that while I am die-hard Team Brooklyn these days, I lived for years in Astoria, Queens, and Queens has many great neighborhoods that fit your criteria as well. (Don’t hate, my fellow Brooklynites)

  18. Sell your car and open a Zipcar account. Then you can use a car just when you need one.
    All the comments about choosing a neighborhood based on what you like to do are valid. I have live in three different brownstone neighborhoods in the last 42 years and loved them all. Pick a place close to a subway in any close-in area and you will probably be very happy. Good Luck!

  19. >Be aware that if you plan to work in Manhattan, carfare home late at night to an outlying area will be $30 or $40. So that’s a tradeoff

    IF you live in Park Slope or Cobble Hill there’s little issue taking the subway at night even up to midnight, usually lots of people around.

  20. Well, as a former blue county PA kid myself, I wish you the best of luck.

    My advice:

    start coming to brooklyn now, every chance you get, craigslist, house sit, cat sit make sure every one you know that knows anyone in brooklyn knows that you are interested and people will keep you posted.

    reading blogs is a good start, read the gossip and complaining and you’ll get a feel for life here.

    cars are for people with disposable income so prob not you…

    and remember, that brooklyn may not end up being for you, but visit as much as possible, and in the end, the worst that will happpen is that you’ll be telling stories about the fun few years when you actually considered moving to this hell on earth 🙂

  21. quote:
    do not have a degree and would need to look for an entry-mid level clerical/accounting job

    youll be competing with 100s of peoples for those same entry level jobs who DO have degrees tho… and some of them are willing to work for peanuts because they get parental support. good luck tho

    *rob*

  22. Agree with all here. I came to Brooklyn from NYC after cat sitting for a friend in Brooklyn Heights. It is hard at first to get a handle on the neighborhoods, and even within a neighborhood there are desirable areas and not so desirable areas. I finally ended up in Fort Greene, but that was after I spent a few days there on foot. I literally walked around and wrote down the names and block numbers of the streets I would want to live on. This made my online searches much more focused.

    I think the suggestion of spending some time in each neighborhood is a great one and Brooklynites (natives or adoptees) love to show off their ‘hoods. I even bet if you posted here, people would offer you a couch for a night or so. Maybe it could be a contest – see who can convince suburban PA to choose their neighborhood!

  23. >As a newcomer is it better to keep my car or rely on public transportation? Is street parking readily available and safe?

    If you have to ask ;)…Seriously, keeping a car in inner Brooklyn or Manhattan is expensive, short-sighted and almost mostly unnecessary. Buy a bike.

    Short term stays are a good way to get to know neighborhoods. Walk around a lot at different times.

    Do you have a budget? While 4 years is a very long time to predict prices, it might help in the selection.

  24. Yes, explore as much as you can in the time you have with the awareness that things are in a constant flux. There are a large variety of neighborhoods each with its trade-offs of price, activity level, vibe, stores and shops, transportation convenience, housing stock types, parking availability, etc. It really helps to be there in person to get a sense for what balance makes sense for you.

  25. Sounds like a great plan. If you are looking for a room with roommates, Park Slope is actually not that expensive compared with other neighborhoods. You can get a very pretty floor-through one-bedroom apartment in the best part of Bed Stuy for $1200-$1400. There are many other nice places too.

    Be aware that if you plan to work in Manhattan, carfare home late at night to an outlying area will be $30 or $40. So that’s a tradeoff.

    You won’t need a car in the city, but you might want one to visit home or other places in the summer. Parking is next to impossible in certain areas such as Fort Greene and Park Slope, but very easy in other areas such as Bed Stuy. Keeping a car in NYC is expensive (insurance, parking tickets). If you work in Manhattan, you will also have to pay for subway tickets.

  26. I’d try something like vrbo.com or homeaway.com or roomorama.com and find weekend rental apartments in various neighborhoods. I wouldn’t overlook Queens, either. There are a lot of areas in Queens which are inexpensive, lovely and convenient. They might not have the hipster shininess easily found in Ft. Greene or Park Slope, but they’re nice. And if you’re looking for alternative lifestyle-friendly, you’ll find NYers as a whole are pretty tolerant, as long as you’re not slowing them down, taking their parking place or planning a new bike lane.

  27. Agree with all of the above. You can read up on Brownstoner and other neighborhood blogs that are linked here, which will give you some sense of the different parts of Brooklyn, which as the above notes, is huge and very diverse; but if you have such a lead time, I would strongly suggest visiting as much as you can to get a feel for different neighborhoods and what it might be like to reside in them. See if you can stay in an apartment (from Craigs list, e.g.) rather than a hotel, so you know what it’s like to shop, get around on trains, etc. Brooklyn has everything from small neighborhoods and larger ones of frame houses and grand brownstones to industrial areas with an entirely different vibe. Some have lots of nightlife, some quiet and more residential. Even when moving from just across the river from Manhattan years ago, I spent a LOT of time exploring different neighborhoods. It was worth it, as I learned a lot.

  28. @ bowl of dicks…..you would be surprised how many people ask me why I would want to move to Brooklyn especially when I will be middle aged. My answer is simple, I have always felt like I was born and raised in the wrong location. I love urban settings, culture, ethnic diversity, and the hustle of a face paced lifestyle. I would have loved to relocate as a younger woman, however for family and financial reasons that wasn’t the best choice. Moving has always been a dream of mine and I can’t imagine not fullfilling it sometime in my lifespan.

  29. I guess my question is for what reasons are you relocating from suburban PA to Brooklyn? Those reasons, and whatever lifestyle priorities you may have, will help define what neighborhood in Brooklyn you would feel most comfortable.

    What are your priorities; close to Manhattan? Personal safety? Close to culture / nightlife? Close to green space? Urban or suburban environs? Car ownership vs. public transportation?

    Brooklyn is a really big place. There is definitely something for everyone here!

  30. This probably won’t be too much help, but four years in Brooklyn is like a life time in most places. I’ve been going to Lancaster Co. antiquing for about 30 years and I would guesstimate that in those 30 years, it hasn’t changed as much as Brooklyn has in four years. I only bring this up because I think that it’s going to be almost impossible to plan that far in advance with regards to neighborhoods, there are lots of people on here who wish they knew what neighborhoods would be hot four years from now, myself included. Fort Greene was a very different place four years ago. Whether you keep your car, how easy it is to find parking, social scene, just about everything revolves around the neighborhood that you live in.
    On the positive side, I think with accounting experience, you won’t have a lot of difficulty finding work, but again, who knows what the market will be four years from now?
    That being said, having done both the urban thing and the suburban thing, I say go for it, and when things get a little closer, post again. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, one thing Brownstoner doesn’t lack for are people with opinions who are willing to voice them! I’d also peruse Craigslist on a regular basis just to get an idea of both jobs and housing.