Katherine Dunleavy’s apartment goals for 2020 were modest: After a year and a half of living in a windowless room in a financial district one-bedroom with two roommates, she hoped to upgrade to a room with a window.

But her plans, like those of so many New Yorkers, changed when the pandemic hit, and she ended up with not only a window of her own, but an entire apartment.

“I loved living with roommates, and while I always thought I’d get my own studio someday, I didn’t plan on doing it so soon,” Ms. Dunleavy said.

The decision was largely motivated by a desire not to live with strangers — her friends and roommates had either left the city to move home with their parents or had leases that didn’t align with hers. But the pandemic altered her life in other ways, as well.

“My last place was really just somewhere I could go to sleep. When I wasn’t at work, I was often out with friends or at the gym,” said Ms. Dunleavy, 24, who works in health-care public relations. “But after this spring, I wanted someplace I’d be happy living and working. It’s not only a space I come to relax; I’m basically here all day.”

Ms. Dunleavy, who is from Chapel Hill, N.C., moved to the city two years ago. At the time, she was overwhelmed by the idea of navigating the city’s housing market and turned to a start-up that placed people in apartment shares that fit their desired budgets and neighborhoods.

“I ended up in a financial district high-rise with two roommates I’d never met before,” she said. “Since I’d just graduated from college, I figured it would be like a first-year dorm: It’s either great or it goes horribly.”

The roommates turned out to be great, but the room was not. An interior space separated from the kitchen of a one-bedroom apartment by a set of French doors, it lacked a window or a closet. It was also too small to accommodate anything larger than a twin bed.

At first, a tiny, windowless room seemed an acceptable trade-off for getting to live in New York, but that feeling didn’t last long, especially when she realized that for what she was paying — $1,300 a month — she could afford a room with a view. (The total rent for the one-bedroom apartment, in a doorman building with a gym and rooftop terrace, was $4,700.)

“It allowed me to live in the city, so I dealt with it,” Ms. Dunleavy said. “But after about a year, it started to get very, very old.”

When her lease came up in July, she had planned to either move in with friends elsewhere or take over one of the other rooms in the apartment. In addition to Ms. Dunleavy’s room, there was a “real” bedroom with an en suite bathroom, as well as a third, “flex” room created by a pressurized, temporary wall in the living room. “It had all windows and no real walls,” she said. “I had real walls but no windows.”

One of her roommates had moved out in February, and as Ms. Dunleavy and the remaining roommate looked for someone to replace her, the pandemic struck.

It soon became apparent that working from home and social distancing would not be a short-lived phenomenon, so they decided to leave the room empty until they both moved out in July. “No one was really looking, and it was nice to have the extra space,” she said.

Given the circumstances, neither Ms. Dunleavy nor her roommate, who eventually moved home with her parents, wanted to renew the lease on a tiny, expensive share.

But by splitting the rent two ways instead of three for several months, Ms. Dunleavy realized that she could actually swing the cost of a studio apartment. She was also optimistic that she might find a great deal because of the pandemic.

“I thought I would stumble on jaw-dropping price cuts,” she said. “I was very naïve, I guess. It was my first real New York apartment hunt.”

$2,550 | Financial district

Occupation: Senior account executive at a public relations agency.
On living alone: “It sounds clichéd, but picking everything out and truly having my own space, it’s very exciting. It makes me happy.”
Setting up the space: “I was not expecting the amount of inventory I’d have to sort through on sites like Wayfair,” said Ms. Dunleavy, who did a lot of her shopping for the new space online because of the pandemic. “I’m usually a decisive person, but looking through 12 variations of the same couch, I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’”
The financial district: “I was looking at several different areas, but I’m really glad I found a place here. I love being close to the water and Hudson River Park. And Leo’s Bagels — I go there whenever I can.”

Prices were not as cheap as she had hoped, but after about a month of hunting, she found a sunny studio around the corner from her old building for $2,550 a month. In mid-July, she moved in.

“I thought I’d like it, but I had no idea,” she said. “It turns out I really love living alone.”

“As an only child, I loved college because I could live with people my own age,” she said. “But I find having my own space more relaxing. I’m generally very clean, and before, when I was living with other people, I could be super clean and they could, too. But if I want to leave my clothes out now, it’s very much in my control. I can do what I want and not worry about annoying my roommates.”

Her new apartment has a foyer, a separate kitchen and several big windows with a view of the East River.

“Sunlight was huge for me,” Ms. Dunleavy said. “I think that goes back to not having a window.”

She was also relieved to be able to stay in the neighborhood. “I feel like people are somewhat surprised when I tell them I love FiDi,” she said. “It’s busy when you want it to be busy — you feel the New York energy when you’re going to work — but it’s quiet on the weekends.”

During the spring, of course, it was quiet all the time, especially after the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange shut down.

“At the height of the pandemic, it was absolutely dead. Even the coffee carts were gone,” Ms. Dunleavy said. “When they started coming back in May, I was so relieved. I was like, ‘I have coffee I could make at home, but I’m going to get a cup.’”

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