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Apartment Viewing Tips for Buyers in NYC

Posted by hauseit on January 9, 2017
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What should a first time home buyer ask and look out for when viewing apartments in New York City? We’ll discuss in this article some apartment viewing tips for buyers in NYC that may not be obvious to new home buyers.

The viewing is not a home inspection

This is the most important fact to keep in mind! Home inspections are uncommon for NYC condominiums and cooperative apartments because the home owner is only responsible for the interior of his or her apartment. So don’t expect to start checking out the building’s boilers and furnaces when you view an apartment!

While home inspections are common for townhouses, multi-family units and free-standing houses, they are unnecessary for most re-sale condo’s and co-op’s in NYC. This is because the building’s management company will be responsible for maintaining the exterior and any common interior areas of the building. The cost will be split among all owners within the building.

In fact, if you were to order a home inspection for a co-op or condo in NYC, the most that the inspector will be able to do that you can’t is to test for mold.

During the final walkthrough you will be able to test if the outlets, appliances, lights and plumbing work.

Ask the listing agent for the square footage of the apartment

This is especially important for co-op apartments where the size is often not listed. This is because many co-op’s are older buildings where the original offering plan may not have had a square footage listed, or only had one that was a rough estimate. As a result, most listing agents will decline to advertise a specific square footage number for liability reasons.

Keep in mind that listing agents may inflate the actual square footage if you ask them for an estimate verbally. We’ve heard instances of listing agents’ estimates being over 20% more than the actual size of the apartment. It’s best to make your own estimation of size after you have seen a few comparable condo listings where the size is listed. The only way to get an actual square footage is to have a draftsman measure it for you.

Apartment viewing tips for condo buyers: you can verify the listing agent’s square footage quite easily through public sources such as ACRIS or the property’s latest tax bill available on the NYC Department of Finance website.

Request a NYC Buyer Broker Commission Rebate

Save thousands on your purchase price and increase your chances of a successful close by working with an experienced buyer's agent

Ask if the board is friendly

This is something that will be very hard for you or your attorney to diligence unless you have a friend who actually lives in the building. The listing agent will undoubtedly say yes the board is reasonable and friendly, but you can look for clues in the way the listing agent said it to see if there might be reason for concern.

Your real estate attorney may be able to gauge how reasonable the board is by reading through the building’s board meeting minutes. If it has been accurately recorded then the back and forth between the board members may reveal if any or all of them are mentally unstable or simply vicious people.

This is one of the benefits of using a listing agent for sellers. They can have an intermediary essentially gloss over details and often blatantly lie. And often times the listing agent truly won’t know what the board is like and there is an additional layer of murkiness for the buyer to diligence.

What is the sublet policy?

This is one of the most important apartment viewing tips to remember. The sublet policy often is not listed online so you will have to ask the listing agent for it.

This will be important even if you plan to live there full time for many years. That’s because the ability to sublet your apartment dramatically improves the marketability of your home.

Pro Tip: the sublet policy can be changed at any time by the co-op board of directors. That means you have an opportunity to join the board and improve the sublet policy once you are a shareholder.

Are there any upcoming assessments?

Assessments are additional levies on the owners of a building for unexpected maintenance costs, repairs or simply to top up a depleted reserve account. A replacement of an old or broken elevator can cost $150,000! The total amount of the assessment is typically spread out over many months; however, they can often be levied all at once. The assessment will be shared by the owners according to their pro rata ownership in the building. This is because some owners will have larger apartments and as a result own a larger percentage of the building.

Pro Tip: be wary of large upcoming assessments especially if you are in a smaller building with fewer units! A large assessment could be quite meaningful if a building only has a few units.

Is there any pending litigation?

This is very important to find out before proceeding further with an apartment to potentially purchase. Litigation, especially when it’s between shareholders and the building, can be extremely messy and expensive for all owners.

If an owner stops paying common charges on his condo, the condo board could technically put a lien for common charges on the apartment. However, this can be expensive to enforce through litigation and as a result, many buildings end up not doing anything. Thus, the cost of everyone else’s common charges goes up.

Pro Tip: No one usually wins in litigation except the lawyers who rack up large sums of fees.

Request a NYC Buyer Broker Commission Rebate

Save thousands on your purchase price and increase your chances of a successful close by working with an experienced buyer's agent

Which direction do the windows face?

This question is commonly overlooked among apartment viewing tips given by agents. Asking a listing agent whether the apartment gets good light will only get you a dubiously positive answer. Instead, consider asking the listing agent which directions the windows face. This is a simple and easily verified fact.

Depending on where you are in the city, if the windows face south or north, you may be able to get direct sunlight throughout much of the day. If the windows face east, you will get direct sunlight in the morning but no sunlight at night. The reverse is true if your windows face west, you will to see the sun set but won’t see it in the morning.

Is the building on a ground lease?

If there is a ground lease, that means the building doesn’t own the land. If that’s the case, you’ll need to figure out when the lease expires and what the terms for renewal are. Obviously if there aren’t any pre-set terms for a renewal rate and the ground lease expires soon, you should be extra careful as it could be significantly more expensive to renew the lease!  You’ll mainly encounter ground lease buildings in Battery Park City.

Fact: did you know that the Empire State Building was built on a ground lease?

Disclosure: Hauseit and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.
Disclosure: Hauseit and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.

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