Billie Steigleman and Michael Goon in their Hackensack apartment. It is Goon's first place after moving out of his parent's home.
Billie Steigleman and Michael Goon in their Hackensack apartment. It is Goon's first place after moving out of his parent's home.
Posted: Monday August 15, 2011
Getting that first apartment: Recent grads defy odds in bad economy
By KATHLEEN LYNN of The Record

Getting your first apartment is an important rite of passage — but one that has been delayed for many young people, according to census data.

Blame the economy. If you don't have a job, you can't move out of Mom's.

"The unemployment rate is really a key part of this," says Jeffrey Arnett, a professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and author of "Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties."

Although the unemployment rate is around 9 percent overall, it's above 14 percent for people ages 20 to 24.

"That makes it so hard to stand on your own," Arnett says.

But for young adults who can do it, "there are a lot of rewards to moving out on your own," he says.

"They take pleasure in being able to make their own decisions on matters large and small without their parents looking over their shoulders. Even if it means living at a lower material level, they'd rather be on their own."

He'll get no argument from recent graduates who have been able to get good jobs, and their own apartments, even if it took a year or two.

Here are the stories of four:

Tough transition

Michael Goon, 24, lived at home in Emerson with his parents and two younger brothers for two years after his 2009 graduation from Albright College in Reading, Pa. Although he is close to his family, the adjustment was a bit rocky.

"I wanted to go out late," he recalls. "My mom would stay up. I'd say, 'Mom, you don't have to stay up waiting for me.' I was trying to be as respectful as possible while also having my own lifestyle. It was very hard to coexist."

He had a chance to move out with friends, but held off because his real goal was to live with his girlfriend and fellow Albright graduate, Billie Steigleman, 27.

The couple got the chance to move in together this summer, when Steigleman, a Pennsylvania native, took a retail management job in Paramus. After looking at apartments in Westwood and River Edge, they focused on Prospect Avenue in Hackensack, which is convenient to Steigleman's job and Goon's commute to a public relations job in New York. They found a sunny one-bedroom apartment in a meticulously kept prewar brick building, and moved in July 1.

The couple decorated the living room with a new red sectional couch and black bookcase, as well as an antique oak bookcase that belonged to Steigleman's grandfather and a TV table from the Salvation Army.

Goon and Steigleman won't reveal their exact rent, but say it is in the $1,000 to $1,200 range — a pleasant surprise, because they had expected to pay $1,500. Even so, to afford the rent, they're careful with spending — for example, when they go out with friends, Goon has one beer and offers to be the designated driver, rather than run up a big bar tab.

Although both sets of parents offered to help pay for furniture, Goon and Steigleman accepted only two gifts: a vacuum cleaner and dish rack.

"Everything in this apartment is from our money," Goon says. (That attitude is common among young adults, Arnett notes. "If their parents buy them stuff, it'll probably be nicer stuff because they have more money, but they'd rather buy their own stuff because they want to establish their independence," he says.)

So far, Goon and Steigleman have even survived one of the greatest tests any relationship can face: assembling IKEA furniture. Turns out Steigleman had a knack for it, though Goon was too impatient to study the diagrams.

"It was man versus directions," Steigleman says.

'A different type of independence'

Jesse Capelli, 23, spent a recent sweltering day yanking up carpet in her new apartment in Jersey City Heights, with the help of her sister's boyfriend. They spent several hours working in 100-degree-plus temperatures, but she says it is worth it to show off the wood floors.

Capelli grew up in West New York and lived in Hoboken while earning a degree in bioengineering at Stevens Institute of Technology there. After she was hired at Stryker Corp. in Mahwah, she looked for a place in Hoboken, where a lot of her co-workers live. But she was turned off by the high rents and scarce parking. In Jersey City, she and a roommate split a three-bedroom place in a two-family home, for a total rent of $1,800 a month — a rent that is "unheard-of" in Hoboken, she says.

The apartment's in good shape, but Capelli is thinking a can of seafoam green paint would greatly improve her room, which she calls "a depressing off-white."

Like all the recent grads interviewed for this story, Capelli says she gets along very well with her parents, who didn't "put a lot of restrictions" on her.

But being on her own, she says, is "a different type of independence."

Able to take unpaid internship

Living with her parents for nine months after graduation from Stockton College allowed Katie Denman, 24, to work without pay at an internship with a Boonton public relations firm.

"It was a time for me to take time to figure out what I wanted to do," she says. "My parents were flexible, and they knew I wanted to be out sooner than later."

When her internship turned into a full-time job, she and her boyfriend, her high school sweetheart, decided to move into their own place. Once they had enough saved for a security deposit and first and last months' rent, they moved into a one-bedroom basement apartment in a two-family in Florham Park.

They decorated it partly with furniture left over from Denman's college apartment, but also bought a TV, couch and kitchen supplies. Six pals from her boyfriend's soccer team helped with the move, emptying the truck in half an hour.

Decorating has been fun, though Denman's boyfriend can't quite understand the need for amenities like rugs, throw pillows and a coat rack.

Paying rent forces the couple to budget in other areas.

"Financially, we're not able to do everything we want, but we're living comfortably enough," Denman says. "I find it satisfying living on my own. I'm fine with not going on vacation every six months so I can afford my own place."

Didn't want to start over

Like Arnett, Nina Zalah, 23, knows the key to the first post-college apartment: "It's just having a job and having income," she says.

Zalah graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in May with a degree in computer science and started a job at Johnson & Johnson in Morris Plains.

She grew up in Jersey City, but lived in a Hoboken apartment during college, so she was used to dealing with landlords.

Though she's close to her mother, she didn't consider living at home.

"To come back home after graduation would feel like you're where you were when you were 18," she says. Getting her own place feels like she has "accomplished something."

She's paying $1,400 a month for a cozy, renovated studio in Jersey City, about a 30-mile commute to work.

She hasn't done a lot of decorating because she may have to move within a year or so, since she's in a training program that allows her to test-drive several different units before she's placed in a permanent job.

Her mother trusted Zalah's decision to get her own place, possibly because she was successful in college, graduating with honors as well as the J&J job offer. "My mom says, 'Whatever you're doing, it's working,' " Zalah says.

Grown and at home
Number of people over 18 living with parents:


New Jersey: 836,100
Bergen: 89,100
Passaic: 55,900


New Jersey: 708,800
Bergen: 78,400
Passaic: 48,800


New Jersey: 817,700
Bergen: 96,000
Passaic: 53,200

Source: U.S. censusStaff analysis by Dave Sheingold