Tips for NYC renters becoming (first-time) NYC Buyers?
December 19, 2011 3:59 PM   Subscribe

We're NYC renters becoming NYC first-time buyers. People who have done this, can you share things you wish you'd known/looked for? Tips specific to New York City are especially appreciated.

Our lease ends in May and we've started to look for apartments. Our plan is to stay in Manhattan. It's just my wife and I at the moment but we're looking at apartments that can accommodate a nursery/office. While I feel we have a decent grasp on New York apartments in general from the 5 previous years of renting, buying is a completely new experience and I'd appreciate tips from anybody who's gone through this before. What do you wish you had known or looked for?

An example: we only recently, and accidentally, found out that poured concrete walls is a legitimate feature to ask and look for.

We do have a broker but it's no substitute for the hive mind. I've read other "tips for buying" threads but couldn't find a recent NYC-specific one.

posted by unionsquarepark to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Things that occur to me off the top of my head (not all of which need an answer right now):

1) Co-op or condo?
2) Full service building or not?
3) What's your budget?
4) How much money do you have in liquid assets relative to the purchase price
5) What era of construction? Pre-war, modern, post-war, etc.? Not sure what you mean by "poured concrete" but maybe you're getting at noise issues.
6) Pet friendly building?
7) Do you intend to live there when your kid is in school? If so, public school or private school? If public presumably you want something near PS 6 on the UES.

posted by dfriedman at 4:02 PM on December 19, 2011

8. Pre-war or post-war?

Start collecting your paperwork now, particularly if you opt for co-op.

I've never heard of the poured concrete thing. What is this supposed to signify? Quality of construction? Noise abatement? IMHO, you are going to encounter noise issues in any building.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:43 PM on December 19, 2011

Not sure what you mean by "poured concrete" but maybe you're getting at noise issues.

Exactly-- it's supposed to help with noise between floors.

We haven't specifically decided on pre- or post-war, though most of the buildings we've seen and been happy with have been post-war.
posted by unionsquarepark at 5:01 PM on December 19, 2011

Overall, I strongly urge you avoid newer buildings. (Somebody from the construction business may care to step in and smite me for this gross overgeneralization, but I think most construction is fairly shoddy nowadays.).

FWIW, I live in a pre-war building and still have to deal with hearing my neighbors' clog dancing upstairs. I pine for the days of living on the top floor!

You don't give any indication of your budget, but if you are looking for a two bedroom or such, be prepared to pay a lot. That second bedroom is going to add substantially to the price tag. If you aren't dripping with money, start looking in Washington Heights or the UES.

I wish I had known to bargain harder with the sellers, and to ask more questions.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:17 PM on December 19, 2011

Pay attention to the maintenance/common charges - this can drastically change your budget (I've seen the monthly charge anywhere from $300/month up to $2500/month or more). Unless you're paying for the apartment in cash or with a large downpayment, it is generally cheaper on a monthly basis to rent in NYC. Check out this handy NY Times calculator to figure out your specific situation.

If you're looking at new buildings, ask whether there is a property tax abatement and if so, the details (including any restrictions it places on your apartment) and when it expires.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:33 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I will now share with you the ancestral wisdom of my people, the new york jews.

Find out how much money the building has in its account(s). Is there an underlying mortgage or has it been paid off? Is the building in good shape financially?

What kind of amenities are promised in the adverts? Make sure that anything important to you (pets, w/d allowed in apartment, etc) is clear and in writing in the board's minutes or the contract of sale. A "dogs allowed" clause can turn into a "very small dogs individually approved on a case by case basis by the extremely fussy board only once a year" clause before you know it.

Also re: minutes - check to see what requests (if any) from other residents have been approved and denied. If a similar request has been approved for a board member but denied to a non board member, run away.

Look for building expenses spent on repairs - has the same thing been fixed 3 times in 3 years? Worse, has the same thing been fixed 3 times in 3 years by a construction company with the same last name as one of the board members? Flee.

Anything that looks too good to be true IS too good to be true.

Check all potential buildings on the bedbug registry. When you have your lawyer look over the board's meeting minutes and finances, look for any kind of bedbug abatement services listed as expenses. Verify that there have been no other kind of vermin complaints.

Make sure that the potentially low-sounding maintenance/condo fees/whatever aren't compounded by a $500 monthly assessment for the next 5 years.

goddamn fucking assessments

And finally, if you're hedging on something and the buyer tells you they supposedly have someone else willing to sign contracts TOMORROW for above the asking price, but they'll give you the chance to match it out of the kindness of their hearts, turn around and walk away. You will feel a deep sense of satisfaction when the apartment is still on the market 3 months later and they've been forced to lower the price by 50k.

i have a lot of ~feelings about this subject apparently.
posted by elizardbits at 5:40 PM on December 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

Well for a co-op you really need to look at the specifics of the corporation you are buying into. What is the ratio owners/renters, what is the disposition of any retail space (my building the retail space was retained by the original owner) this will all affect not only how much maintenance you will end up paying but how hard it will be to get a mortgage.

I also live in a pre war building, it has it's charm but there are some things I deal with. I has one electrical outlet in each room. There are constant issues with the pipes, a burst pipe ruined the plaster in my foyer and it took months to get it fixed. I am also responsible for certain maintenance which as a renter you would never be on the hook for. I can hear the upstairs neighbors but I can't hear someone watching tv in the next room.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:01 PM on December 19, 2011

A shorter version of elizardbits' post:
Get a REALLY good lawyer. S/he will be worth the money.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:12 PM on December 19, 2011

What sort of.person the super is and if your upstairs neighbors are planning to do extensive construction.
posted by brujita at 7:05 PM on December 19, 2011

Pay attention to the maintenance/common charges - this can drastically change your budget

This is something we did not expect but have slowly come to realize. Our "affordable" number for purchase price swings wildly based on how much the maintenance is. I actually made a little PHP calculator for my wife and I to use to help figure it out. Here's a screenshot of it with sample numbers:

Elizardbits and ch1x0r: did your broker help with questions like that or are those strictly lawyer issues?

Thanks again for the help everyone!
posted by unionsquarepark at 9:49 PM on December 19, 2011

We've just had an offer accepted on a pre-Civil war coop in Brooklyn and found Street Easy was the best way to search for homes, organize our open house viewings, get emails when new properties matching our criteria came onto the market, etc. The mortgage calculator on every listing takes into account the published maintenance / coop fees to produce an estimate of the monthly carrying costs.
posted by autopilot at 4:18 AM on December 20, 2011

I have never gone all the way through with buying (because I think it doesn't make sense in this market), but when we were close we had a lawyer that would have done all that legwork on the building. I would NEVER trust a broker to do that.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:23 PM on December 22, 2011

both my broker and my lawyer helped me find out the answers to most of those questions and the rest i did on my own.
posted by elizardbits at 5:47 PM on December 27, 2011

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