The American Dream of Co-op Issued Share Ownership
January 17, 2014 8:21 AM   Subscribe

NYC co-op apartment owners (and anyone with relevant apartment experience) I need your help in figuring out where to compromise on our dream home. It gets long.

So, we're getting priced out of where we'd like to move, which is not unexpected. But I just want to figure out what the smart compromise to make is. When we make a choice it's going to have to be FAST. I'm starting to become afraid I won't even have time to get an engineer to see the place before putting in an offer on an apartment we like which, at this point, is a risk I am willing to take. I don't have a lot of experience in living in places that aren't spartan, my wife grew up in a rural area, we're planning to have a kid in the near future, and I'm a little totally lost as far as priorities are concerned.

So I made a list of things we're looking for, but I'm not sure how to realistically prioritize it. Is a nicer bathroom a fair trade for having to walk five extra blocks to the train? How much square footage should we sacrifice for being able to walk to friends' places? Obviously you are not us, and you have your own priorities, but this is sort of a sanity check because, as I said, my priorities are jumbled between "stuff we want emotionally" and "stuff we need practically" and I want to make sure we make the best decision for our family.

-Size: We'd prefer over 1000 sq. ft. and a bare minimum of 900. Dropping down to 875 is, like, the nuclear option, but it is on the table.

-Distance from Friends/Neighborhood amenities: With the way things are changing right now, it is all up in the air. People are buying instead of renting, getting priced out of their rentals, etc. But the general idea is the more south we go, the farther we are from places we want to be (hopefully) within walking distance to. Especially once everyone starts growing their families. Right now we live far from the action and I feel like our social lives suffer. We've been really, really looking forward to living near our friends, especially as they are our main support group (my family is dead, her family isn't in NYC.)

-Distance from Public Transportation: We don't drive, walking in the rain sucks, and we're planning on raising kids in there so I figure being able to get them to/from the train is rather important. I'm seriously considering that we may need to get a vehicle but, again, nuclear option.

-Price: We'll be putting ~50% down. We set an upper limit of a certain amount we're willing to pay, raised it, and, again it's starting to seem like not enough. Which makes sense because prices are skyrocketing. I can grit my teeth and go up $25K if it will get us our dream apartment, but is it worth it? I've never dealt with these sorts of sums before. (NB to not-NYC people: real estate doesn't really depreciate save for lack of maintenance. I am not at all worried about paying for more than the eventual resale value. I just don't want to pay more money.)

-General Upkept-ness: We're not handy people and while a little fix here or there may be okay, I'm not about to become Fixit McToolbelt. Any major project will need to be done by either contractors, or our more handy friends who have their own lives and will also expect some money. I want things like "newer appliances," "decent shelves and countertops," "not an aqua green 1970s bathroom," and so on. The problem is that the nicer and newer things are, the more they cost.

-Windows: We live in an apartment where there are no windows in the living room. I desperately need a bright living room. Or do I?

-First Floor: I have a serious aversion to living on the first floor of an apartment building. Is it overblown if we're living in a rather safe neighborhood and smart about closing and locking things?
posted by griphus to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I'd focus on the things that can never be changed once you purchase: size, distance from public transportation, light, and first floor. I walk a mile to the subway now, and I think it's fine, but I could never live without light or on the first floor. Size is negotiable, but all of those are already pretty small!

Neighborhoods change, and you may find amenities and friends closer to home. Particularly when you have kids, you have immediate access to the parenting world around you.

Could you put less down and go for a more expensive place that hits more of your criteria? Or are you finding that's a requirement of the coop boards?

You well and truly have my sympathies. When I moved away from NYC, it was a great relief to me that I would never have to buy a coop.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:30 AM on January 17, 2014

Two thoughts:
1. As the parent of a small child using public transportation, the location variables that are most important to me are distance to grocery store, playground, daycare, and friends with other small children.

2. As a person who's renovated three condos so far, let me assure you that replacing outdated appliances is usually trivial. Don't be scared off by an ugly fridge. You can wait for a sale, go to the store, and usually they can handle installation and removal of the old one for a reasonable fee. NB: check that the existing ones are a standard size.
posted by chocotaco at 8:35 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Could you put less down and go for a more expensive place that hits more of your criteria?

The amount we're putting down is a fixed sum, so you mean less percent down, right? That's definitely an option, but the question is whether that's a financially smart thing to do. I have no realistic metric for how much $25,000 (plus interest) actually is, save for the higher monthly mortgage payment.
posted by griphus at 8:38 AM on January 17, 2014

The bathroom can always be renovated later. As Admiral Haddock says, the other things can't be changed

My take on the "light" issue and first floor thing: While *I* do not care about whether the unit has a lot of light and *I* would be comfortable living on the first floor in a safe neighborhood, future buyers will definitely be looking for a place with lots of light on an upper floor, and the unit will be harder to sell without those things.
posted by deanc at 8:38 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

When it comes to buying a co-op , you also need to consider various other things...

What are the general rules for the building and how are conflicts resolved?
Who is the managing agent and what is their track record?
Do you want to be able to sublet in the future? What are the rules?
Who is on the board?
Does your co-op have a healthy reserve fund?

With a co-op you're not just buying a home, you're also buying shares in a business. You want to make sure that business is well run.

Also make them concretely disclose to you whether or not there has ever been a problem with bedbugs in the building.
posted by brookeb at 8:41 AM on January 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

The amount we're putting down is a fixed sum

You say ~50% as your down payment. Did you mean $50K, possibly going up to $75K? I had read it that you were wanting to limit your leverage to 50% of the cost of the coop, which seems high (unless required by the board, which is entirely possible).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The question would be helped by neighborhoods and $ figures you're interested in. Many areas of brooklyn and manhattan are so hot at the moment with (often bottomless foreign) capital that if you're not paying all cash on $200k-$2.5M places, you will often be outbid.
posted by lalochezia at 8:44 AM on January 17, 2014

Important reading: how to buy an nyc apartment

Also note that anyone giving advice from a perspective other than buying in the NYC metro area will essentially be clueless. This market is pretty unique.
posted by lalochezia at 8:45 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Distance to the train and the actual things around you like laundry and groceries are most important, and you already know this.

Friends and family move, so don't factor them in too much unless they own as well. Plus if you are near a train, no matter where you are that makes you easier to visit.

In terms of modern finishes, choose a place that you can live in happily but don't worry about a moderately old fridge or slightly ugly bathroom cabinets. You will live with them until you can't anymore, and then they aren't that expensive to replace. Unlike adding windows. That is not in the cards. Plus, when you decide to sell, which is not going to be for at least 5 years (RIGHT???!!), those finishes that look ok now will look dated and you will probably want to replace them to get more $$ later anyway. So newness of "stuff" should not be too important.

Light and structure of the apartment are very important. These are things you can't change easily. You won't be able to add a bathroom or move the kitchen etc cheaply if at all, so the layout and the "bones" are priorities.

As for price, I agree that 50% down is a little much and you should go for 35% or 40% if you can instead and go for a more expensive place if those are the only places you really like. You have to think about 5 years from now you guys and not just your opinions and needs today. Then you should think about 10 years from now other people and how they will see the apartment and what they are going to be looking for and willing to pay. A great layout and location are always going to be popular and pricier. A weirdly shaped steal will always be annoying to furnish and harder to sell later. Spending more now might make your life easier later. But of course you have to balance this with thinking about your mortgage and how affordable that will be if one of you is out of work, disabled etc.
I'd use the extra $ that you were going to put down to actually serve as a temporary mortgage buffer so that you can pay more monthly for a pricier place and not feel cramped in your budget. Hopefully when the buffer runs out you will be making or have saved more money to compensate.

First floors should be avoided except when they shouldn't. Use your instincts, they will be fine.
posted by rmless at 8:47 AM on January 17, 2014

Response by poster: The question would be helped by neighborhoods and $ figures you're interested in.

We'll be putting $175K down on an apartment that will cost around $350K, probably in Midwood or Ditmas Park as Kensington is now officially expensive as fuck.
posted by griphus at 8:48 AM on January 17, 2014

Consider finding a condo, which is usually new construction in Brooklyn. More expensive, but fewer rules and easier to buy.

As for how much to put down, co-ops invariably require at least a 20% down payment, and the cost of mortgage+maintenance+taxes should preferably be 25% of your gross household income.
posted by deanc at 8:49 AM on January 17, 2014

I looked at your mefi contacts and the NYC ones live all over the area; from what you posted here I would make close to public transportation a top priority.

Nthing chocotaco and deanc.

I bought a condo 11 years ago; it was a conversion from rental and I made the mistake of having the building owner renovate everything before I bought it--most of which wasn't done properly. I also had to deal with an evil super who sabotaged me every chance he could.

Feel free to troll through my shouting thread posts comments on mecha. :-s
posted by brujita at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2014

Response by poster: Oh, sorry, I should explain something: the amount we're putting down is coming from the proceeds of the co-op we're selling, which I inherited. So that's not tied to our income. We can afford the payments on a 30-year mortgage on $175K, but higher than that and it becomes hinky.

Consider finding a condo, which is usually new construction in Brooklyn

Way, way, way out of our price range. The areas we're looking at, condos cost almost exactly twice as much as co-ops.
posted by griphus at 8:51 AM on January 17, 2014

My priorities would be access to train and lots of light.
posted by aniola at 9:01 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't even like living on the first floor in a really really safe rural/suburban area (and have had creepers peep through my windows), so I think that's a totally valid concern. I also think that you should put a larger emphasis on size if you're going to be raising kids in the space. I know most New Yorkers have less stuff but 875 square feet is really, really small for two parents and a toddler or two. I'd glad trade crappier appliances for, say, enough room to put a dresser and a changing pad.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:06 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

> First Floor: I have a serious aversion to living on the first floor of an apartment building. Is it overblown if we're living in a rather safe neighborhood and smart about closing and locking things

I lived on the first floor twice in NYC, both times in safe neighborhoods. In the first apartment we had metal gates over the windows that were installed so that I couldn't open or close the curtains without unlocking the gates, and the traffic noise was right there by our window, and we didn't have much privacy. Having to be smart about closing and locking things gets wearying.

The second time I liked living on the 1st floor because by then I had a kid and this meant I didn't have to bring his stroller up stairs and we didn't have to worry about being quiet for a downstairs neighbor.

Will you be able to have the windows open for ventilation? Will people passing by look in your window? Are the windows right there on the sidewalk, or set back a bit? How do you feel about always having the blinds at least partly shut? Are you going to hear the front door buzzer and the door slamming? Are people going to ask you to sign for packages?
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:06 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

In your income range, you definitely need to be looking at HDFC income restricted coops if your concerns are about proximity and space. They seem to be designed for people with both a significant amount of capital but with relatively moderate incomes.
posted by deanc at 9:16 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Caveat: I've never lived in or bought a place in New York, but I have friends who live there and understand it is a real estate world unto itself.

However - I think some of the basic principals remain the same. You can't change location. Light levels probably won't fluctuate (the likelihood of a building coming down and a lot remaining open after that is nil). Distance to a train station is important. Not trying to maintain a car in the City is probably important. Look with an eye towards resale, which means taking these items into account not just for you, but for how it will look to a future buyer.

When we were shopping for a house last summer, to remove the "OH GOD I LOVE IT" aspect that I tend to fall into, which blinds me to glaring obvious faults, I would get my initial OH GOD I LOVE IT or OH GOD ARE YOU KIDDING I AM NOT LIVING IN A TRILEVEL reaction out of the way, and then look at the house/property with a cold eye toward resale. We don't plan to move ever, but at the same time, things happen.

So, I'd order your list as follows:

1. Close to a train station.
2. Second floor or higher apartment (caveat: the corpse in the library has a good point about dragging strollers around, but I've seen women handle strollers on 4 story steps down to the subway/up to the street, so YMMV).
4. Size.
3. Light. OMG I have no idea how people in NYC don't get claustrophobic. I would go for light.
4. Distance to friends (being close to the train station mitigates this, and they may move too).
5. Look/feel. You can update the look and feel of the interior, slowly but surely. You cannot up and move your apt closer to the train station.

I hope that helps. I feel for you - the NYC real estate market is an animal unto its own, and not for the faint of heart.
posted by RogueTech at 9:22 AM on January 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

The best advice we got when buying in Brooklyn from a friend was, "the neighborhood right outside your door is worth much more than you think". This caused us to buy a slightly more expensive, slightly smaller apartment with a good deli on the corner in Park Slope than a larger, cheaper one in Windsor Terrace. I don't regret it one bit.

I agree with the rest that 50% down is way overdoing it. Especially with mortgage rates as low as they are, there's no reason to lock up that much of your savings in your home. It's better spent upgrading your new home and saving the rest.

griphus: "I'm starting to become afraid I won't even have time to get an engineer to see the place before putting in an offer on an apartment we like which, at this point, is a risk I am willing to take."

I wouldn't even consider having someone like that look at the apartment before making an offer. Offers are free to make and can be withdrawn, even after they are accepted. Inspection usually happens as part of the contract process.

griphus: "Size: We'd prefer over 1000 sq. ft. and a bare minimum of 900. Dropping down to 875 is, like, the nuclear option, but it is on the table."

If it comes down to it, you can live in less space than you think. There are plenty of families with kids in our building, an no unit is larger than ~850sqft. One family is expecting their third child.
posted by mkultra at 9:25 AM on January 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

You'll know about 3 seconds into stepping into a place if you like it.

Don't worry about ugly, you can update, paint and replace ugly. You can't change distance to the train, I'd sacrifice 100 Sq Ft to be closer to the train.

You don't need to have an inspection before submitting an offer, you can put that into your contract.

Look at layout. Some small places are well laid out, some large spaces are hideously laid out. You may be surprised.

Don't buy a 1/4 million dollar piece of real estate based on whether or not your $600 sofa will fit. If it's the right place, sit on the floor until you can ge new furniture.

If the place is spacious but without closets, don't discount it. Ikea has LOTS of great solutions!

Mazel Tov!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:37 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live like 1 block from the train which is invaluable for commuting. I think living near the train is more important than living near friends, personally. If you're super far from your friends now, then if you like like a mile away when you buy a place it's going to seem close. But a long walk to the train is always going to stink.

FWIW, I live on the first floor in DP and I don't find it an issue at all. I know it lowers the value of the apartment though. It depends on the specific building; mine is set back from the street and has a big-ass floodlight in front of the window so it never feels unsafe. In DP/Kensington where it's so residential I don't think it's really a big deal, obviously depends on the specific location though.

I think you need an engineer; they can come on pretty short notice. I can recommend a good and efficient one.

You would want to run calculations about what's best for you but I think it's unnecessary to put down 50% of a down payment unless you really want to.

I have a ~600 sq ft apartment and it's more than adequate for me and my SO. Seriously, I was amazed at how basically everything we need fits and people comment on how the apartment feels spacious. Even if you have kids down the line I don't think you need over 1000 sq ft to be happy in this town. Maybe go to open houses to get an idea of what different amounts of space look like in different layouts? (In my case, the bedroom is quite small and the living room and kitchen feel pretty big, so that contributes to a sense of spaciousness.)

(Sorry, I have a lot of opinions!)
posted by mlle valentine at 9:38 AM on January 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

mkultra: Inspection usually happens as part of the contract process.

Yeah, offers are highly conditional. Putting an offer in is essentially saying that you'll pay this much IF everything is as it appears and there are no physical problems with the house that aren't immediately obvious to a casual, non-expert observer or haven't already been explicitly disclosed by the sellers. Any unseen, undisclosed structural or mechanical problems effectively come with their own Get Out Of Contract Free cards.

FWIW, my last house was two bedrooms on a 600 square-foot first floor, plus an unfinished basement for storage and laundry, and a finished attic with the same floor size but ceilings that sloped from six feet in the middle of the room to nothing at the edges. The couple we bought it from had raised their daughter there, from infancy till middle school. It was tight, but they made it work. This was a freestanding house in Ohio, with yard and a single-car garage, not at all like the properties you're looking at, but in terms of living space I think your "nuclear option" lower limit can actually be quite liveable, especially if it comes with a big window and a view out into the open.

I am Fixit McToolbelt and I don't have NYC-specific experience, so I'll refrain from pretending I know anything about the rest of it.
posted by jon1270 at 9:51 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have no experience with either apartment living or the NYC rental market, so I hesitate to even answer here, but I DO have experience as the at-home parent of children, and I will say that being able to easily get out is the difference between joyful sanity and utter misery. You need to consider not just the tiny sub-larval newborn stage, but also the NO STROLLER I WALK two year old stage, the "oh look a crack in the sidewalk! Oh look another crack in the sidewalk! Oh yay, another crack in the sidewalk!" three year old stage, the "HAHAHAHA I AM FREAKISHLY STRONG AND HAVE NO CONCEPT OF DANGER" four year old stage, the "I am going to carefully sound out every sign I see and ask you infinite questions about them" five year old stage, plus the fact that if you have more than one child you will be dealing with multiple stages at once. IOW: I would place a very high priority on being close to transit if I were in your situation.
posted by KathrynT at 10:21 AM on January 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Brooklyn co-op owner here; we bought in 2012. I'd echo a lot of the advice that's already been given -- focus mostly on the completely un-changeable things, like access to transit. The other things, like square footage, are hard to make firm decisions on because it depends so much on the specifics of the apartment. We rented a place that was just over 1000 sf and thought we wouldn't be able to downsize, but our current place is 850-ish with excellent storage, and actually feels bigger because of that. I would have thought that size would be my biggest non-negotiable, but it turns out I was wrong. On the other hand, we had private outdoor space on our pie-in-the-sky wish list, never thinking that we would actually find a place within our budget that had any kind of patio, and we actually got that.

About your aversion to first-floor living coupled with the idea of having kids in the near future: how many flights of stairs are you willing to carry a stroller up? This is something I ask myself every day, because I love our fourth-floor walkup beyond measure, but we also want kids sometime soon, and wow, that routine is going to get old.

Absolutely make an offer before the inspection is done -- If you haven't signed the contract, you are not locked into that if it turns out there are major problems. Not to add to the anxiety, but we learned the hard way that even after someone accepts your offer, if you're not in contract yet they can go right ahead and show the apartment to other people and solicit more offers. Fun times.

Also seconding the comments about getting specifics about the financial health of the co-op and finding out whether there's been any bedbug incidences. Before you sign a contract, ask to read the last 2 years' worth of board meeting minutes, and you should get a pretty clear picture of how things are.
posted by ella_minnow at 10:36 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are noise-sensitive, you may not want to be on the first floor even if it is the safest neighbourhood on earth.
posted by windykites at 10:41 AM on January 17, 2014

If you live by playgrounds, space doesn't matter.

First floor is great with kids if it's laid out in a comfortable and pleasant way.

Playgrounds, seriously.

Shortest commute is super important too, as it limits the time your baby needs to be either in daycare or on a train commuting with you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:44 AM on January 17, 2014

Also, 25k is not a lot over a 30 year mortgage with a strong, reliable market. But a stressful monthly payment is a problem if you're trying to get the baby into a good daycare but you'd need $200 more a month...

Honestly, I'd consider selling and instead of buying, you could move into a nice rental with lots of cash in the bank for unexpected expenses and help with the baby.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:49 AM on January 17, 2014

My issue with the first floor is not necessarily safety, but rather vermin. Yes, rats/cockroaches/etc are everywhere in NYC, but you're much more likely to get them on the first floor. There's also the issue of flooding - the areas you're looking at are in/near Zone 3, so there's some risk of flooding, which is less of an issue if you're on a higher floor.

Don't underestimate the benefit of having outdoor space. I have a terrace now, and even though my apartment doesn't get much light, the terrace makes all the difference (plus being able to grill and have "backyard" parties in the summer is awesome).

You may also want to look in Inwood/Hudson Heights. There are a bunch of places in your price range, and they're great neighborhoods right off the A or 1. From what I hear from friends that live there, the schools are also pretty decent.

Do you have pets? Will you ever want pets? Make sure they will be allowed without major hassle.

Dishwasher and either in-unit or in-building laundry would be on my list of necessities (esp. once you have a baby).

Are you sure you even want to buy? It sounds exhausting.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:50 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Never compromise on things like no first floor apartments, because once you live in a first floor apartment the rest of your life there is a continuing terrible compromise as the neighborhood changes. (However, do not pick a 5th floor place that has no elevator if you are planning for kids.)

Don't worry so much about living near friends as long as you live near the train.

Move to Midwood so I can pretend you guys are my grandparents.
posted by elizardbits at 10:55 AM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know nothing about New York but some advice. When I bought my place 5 years ago I had 12-15 friends that lived in the same tiny neighborhood. We've lived here on and off for a decade or more. We had spontaneous bbqs, rode our bikes to each other's houses and went to the local bar for drinks and the bartenders knew our names. It was like TV. Fuckers ALL moved.

But since I bought in a cool neighborhood I have met lots of new people, made new friends and can easily, easily sell my place. So my advice is to buy someplace you like and not worry about it.
posted by fshgrl at 11:26 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming you're considering the schools each place would be zoned for. Now consider the walk from home to school to train. No great virtue being close to the train if the school is in the other direction; a longer distance might be okay if school is on the way.
posted by oddovid at 11:46 AM on January 17, 2014

HDFC. Seriously. If you have $$ and a moderate-low income, they are right up your alley. You could even afford Hell's are a few places to start:

Streeteasy search income restricted less than 350k


Discussions about HDFC
posted by lalochezia at 1:29 PM on January 17, 2014

Light - fuck yes. I cannot comprehend having a living room with no windows. Yes you want light.
Transit/closeness to friends - yes you want this. You cannot change it. It is the key to sanity, for commuting, and also helps enormously once you have kids. I know because of my current living situation!
Interiors can be remodeled. Look past the 1970s avocado bathroom, at the size and shape of the place. You can bring in a contractor to remodel your bathroom, and get exactly the bathroom of your dreams. If you buy something someone else remodeled, it is less hassle for sure, but you are paying extra to get someone else's taste. Not that its wrong to buy a remodeled place, but don't write off the fixer-upper. Lots of other people can't see past the avocado bathroom so means you have a little less competition too.
posted by Joh at 1:32 PM on January 17, 2014

Inquire as to the co-op's renovation rules. Some buildings (including mine) have a strict rule about no "wet over dry." Meaning you can't move a bathroom or kitchen over your downstairs neighbor's bedroom. A friend, whose building doesn't have such a rule, was able to flip the layout of her apartment, enlarging her living room, opening the kitchen and putting the bedroom in the back.

For me, light was the primary consideration, next being an open layout. The financial health of the co-op is also super important. Nobody wants to have to pay enormous assessments for heating oil or for improvements.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:48 PM on January 17, 2014

You are also going to have to haggle over price.

The listing for my place was about 20% more than it was actually worth.

I had to get a lawyer to help me negotiate.
posted by brujita at 3:42 PM on January 17, 2014

I'm not in New York, but Melbourne, Australia is also a crazy real estate city. I sacrificed space for location when I bought and it was the right decision for me. I bought close to all the reasons I wanted to live in that particular neighbourhood, rather than have to walk 15-20 minutes to get to it all. Also have great public transport. Short commutes are one thing that scientifically makes people feel better about their lives.

I paid more than I ideally wanted to spend (but still within my budget). For me, and the sort of places I was looking at, this extra money was the difference between "yeah, that would do", and "this feels like home". Absolutely don't regret the extra money.

It sounds to me like location is really important for you guys and I think unless you buy something that is impossibly and dreadfully small, you'll love living close to friends, neighbourhood amenities and transport.

Go for something that is serviceable as-is. For the kitchen, look for reasonable storage and counters (you can add a kitchen cart to get more of both), but appliances are really easy to replace, so I wouldn't worry about those so much.

If are starry-eyed or indecisive when you see a property, make sure you can list five positives AND five negatives about the property. If you can't get five of each, you haven't looked at it hard enough. The magnitude of those five things, particularly on the negative side, will give you a gauge as to whether you are close. I am a terribly indecisive shopper and it is a miracle I managed a purchase as large as an apartment, but my dad suggested I do this, and it really helped.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:04 PM on January 17, 2014

If you are really really serious about having children, as in absolutely certain, then put "school district" on a par with proximity to the subway as tied for top priority. I would define the minimal standard of "proximity" as "10 minute walk."

Second should be commute time for the one of you with the more demanding job.

Third I would say is neighborhood amenities: you want to make sure you have a supermarket, a deli, a dry cleaner, a laundromat, a Chinese or Thai place that delivers, a pizza place that delivers, a diner where you can have brunch on the weekend without breaking the bank.

Light, if you can get it. I've lived in an apartment with very little light and it is doable but not much fun.

Good bones and layout.

Sound ambience. If you can manage at least to walk by the place at, say, 11 pm on a weeknight and check out the general noise level. If the culture of the neighborhood is that everybody plays music all night long and everybody gives parties, that's not going to change just because you need to sleep.

And, in no particular order, consider looking in Queens, specifically Western Queens. There are still bargains in Sunnyside, Woodside, parts of Astoria and jackson Heights and this part of the borough is very well-served with subway lines. (Not to be too harsh, but in Midwood you're depending on the Q, and that would make me very nervous.)
posted by La Cieca at 11:47 PM on January 17, 2014

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