Betsy Morgan wants to move to Israel in late February or early March, but has had trouble finding someone to sublet her Center City apartment.
She’s posted ads in Facebook housing groups but there’s been little interest. Her landlord said she would get about 20 inquiries a week on Zillow when renting the place before the pandemic, but now she’s lucky to hear from even one person.
Moving is stressful during the best of times. And a global pandemic throws a whole new set of challenges at those aiming to put down roots somewhere else. An international move like Morgan’s is a complicated process, but even local moves are fraught due to lack of in-person tours and the need to manage social distancing with movers.
Sisters Victoria and Sarah Alfred-Levow returned to their mother’s house on the Main Line when their college classes went virtual. After a few months, they knew it was time to find a place of their own.
“We decided to move to East Falls because it kind of fits that bill of being close enough to visit, but far enough away that it actually felt like a new start,” Victoria Alfred-Levow said.
Much of the apartment search took place online, but they were able to arrange an in-person tour of their favorite place before signing a lease.
After settling on a September move-in date, the siblings hired movers. Having strangers in their house was surreal after many months of isolation, even though everyone wore masks. They were also concerned that their landlord wanted to send a handyman to fix some maintenance issues in the new apartment.
“It felt so stressful just knowing, ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to have to worry about a stranger breathing in my house?’” Victoria Alfred-Levow said.
Rebecca Rendsburg and her husband David eyed a move to Philadelphia from New York for years before the pandemic, but new restrictions threw their plans into question.
David Rendsburg’s mother lives in Lower Merion, and he attended Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) and the University of Pennsylvania. The couple visited Philadelphia often. Rebecca Rendsburg was struck by the city’s history and manageable pace.
“I really fell in love with the smallness of this city. There was an intimacy to it. There were neighborhoods that felt like little communities,” she said.
She and her husband loved New York, but needed a larger space to raise their two children and a more cost-effective lifestyle in order to send them to Jewish day school while saving for retirement.
“We can do that in Philadelphia. We did not feel like we could do that in New York City,” she said.
Their housing search was complicated by their inability to view places in person.
“We spent March and April into early May looking at houses and virtually never getting a chance to actually go in to see the house, so the house we bought, we did not step foot in until the last week of July, until we moved, basically,”
The Rendsburgs moved to the Hawthorne neighborhood in August and joined the South Philadelphia Shtiebel. Rebecca Rendsburg spent the summer doing outdoor activities like hikes and gardening with her new community.
“It was a really lovely experience,” she said. “But then things had to shut down in November with the uptick of infection around Thanksgiving, and so that was a loss for us. Trying to connect and meet new people and be a part of a new community while you can’t actually see people in person has been a challenge.”
Victoria Alfred-Levow continues to attend virtual services, but misses getting to know her new neighbors.
“It’s so weird to walk around the neighborhood, get that exercise and see the amazing architecture, and know I’m still very much on the outside of this community,” she said.
Aside from the sublet struggle, Morgan is excited to join her partner in Haifa. Her two siblings live in Jerusalem, and her mother plans to move to Israel in the near future.
Morgan, who grew up in Yardley and attended Drexel University, said she would miss the city’s walkability and community feel. She spent the past few weeks saying goodbye to her friends and loved ones from a distance and enjoying the snow.
“It’s been a bit of a hassle to drive in, but it is very beautiful, and I have been trying to take it in since I won’t see this much snow for a very long time,” she said. l