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  • Ruth Walker

From BK to HK – moving apartment in the time of coronavirus

Who would move apartment in the time of coronavirus? Amid job losses and furloughs, rent strikes and eviction moratoriums, creating a period of more uncertainty than most of us have known in our lifetime, why would you undertake what is widely acknowledged as one of the most stressful things a human can do?


Yet it was the pandemic that threw Richie Munguia and Austin Fontenot together.


Austin and Richie moved in together in the middle of the pandemic

Richie had been sharing an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen; Austin was in Brooklyn. “It all started with me feeling my time with my roommate was coming to a healthy end,” says Richie. “Then a few weeks after quarantine began, Austin said, ‘Would you like to come quarantine with me for a while?’ So I took an Uber to his place …”


“It was hilarious,” says Austin. “He was covered head to toe in gear – gloves and a mask …”


“I had this transparent raincoat with a hoodie,” laughs Richie. “It was a little home-made hazmat suit.”


They settled in. Austin, a recruiter for Glossier skincare, would work during the day; Richie, who had been furloughed from his job as a designer, would bake and clean. A month and a half went by amiably. “It was a test time, I suppose,” says Richie. “The whole time we never argued, it was just cool.” So they started to think: “Maybe we could do this permanently …”


“Austin started the initial search after we threw the idea out there to potentially move in together,” says Richie. “He found a few places, but they were out of our budget because we didn't have the money on hand for a broker's fee, and move-in fees. It would have been an extra $3,000.”


Then he changed the search to no-fee apartments and found a newly upgraded building – The Landon – on W43rd St - 10th/11th Ave. But viewing was virtual – there were still no in-person tours.

"It's not the best time to move during a pandemic … but we did.”

“I definitely don't feel that you get a sense of the space from virtual content video,” says Richie.


“I like seeing the neighborhood as well – the street, the cross street,” adds Austin, “what's around, where can we go if we want a drink. It's not the best time to move during a pandemic … but we did.”


Their roommate Lucia was granted physical access just before their move-in date. “She came and videoed it for us,” says Austin. “She didn't meet with the leasing agent, she didn't meet with anyone. The front desk just handed her the key and let her see it herself. No one interacted with each other.”


“We had some reservations – or at least I did – just from what I saw from the video,” says Richie. “Apparently they let her in before it had been repainted and cleaned, so it looked a little dingy to me. But it was a place, and we needed to move forward, metaphorically and physically. So we agreed to it and signed the lease.”


The $1,000+ a month reduction in rent helped that decision-making process. “The lease claims that this is valued at $13,000 a month,” says Richie, “which seems crazy to me. But the apartment was listed for around $5,000 a month and we're paying around $3,000.”


They ordered a table and chairs – still their only furniture apart from beds and a deep blue velvet sofa – because both Austin and Lucia would need to work from day one. “They were supposed to arrive Monday or Tuesday, and we were moving in on Sunday,” says Austin. “But then all of a sudden I started getting notifications that they’d shipped early. Four or five days before we were supposed to move in, we had a collection of six huge boxes already sitting in the mailroom for us.”


Richie convinced the mailroom to let him come down and move the boxes into the empty apartment early. “That was the first time I had seen the apartment in person,” he says. “And I was pleasantly surprised because, from the videos, I didn’t know if I was going to love the place. But our bedroom is massive for New York standards, as is our restroom.


“So, after I put the things in and walked through it, I was like, ‘Yeah, I'll be okay here. It'll be fine.’”


But were they worried about moving during a pandemic?


“I was,” says Richie. “Even when I came to move in the furniture boxes, I was wearing that home-made hazmat suit. I never took off the mask. There was no soap here to wash my hands, so when I got home, I decontaminated myself with soap and water in the shower.”


On moving day, they rented a U-haul rather than use a moving company. "We didn't want random movers coming and touching everything, and we also didn't have too much stuff,” says Austin.


“I wore gloves while driving, I wore the mask,” says Richie. “I took precautions that I feel would keep me safe. I felt this was not the right time to move, but it also was circumstantial – I felt like I had to move forward. But, aside from the inconvenience of the mask and gloves, moving day still felt like a moving day.”


“When we were driving from Brooklyn we saw a ton of people moving in and out,” adds Austin. “Just parking in front of the building to unload the van, we were one of maybe seven or eight other people doing the same thing. That was the most surprising thing for me – seeing how many other people were moving in and out during the pandemic.”


Now they're focused on settling in. "We're going to make a home here at least for the next year and a half," says Richie. "As long as we can stay here, I'm happy here."


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