NYC Buyer’s Guide: How it Works From Start to Finish

Hauseit’s NYC buyer’s guide demystifies each step of the home buying process in The Big Apple. Learn about closing costs, the purchase timeline, financial requirements and more.

Just starting your home-search? Consider reading this buyer’s guide from top to bottom for maximum effect. If your home purchase is already underway, click on any sections which might be of interest.

Refer to our NYC buyer closing cost calculator for a detailed closing cost estimate.

Table of Contents:

Should You Buy in NYC?

Buying offers several advantages over renting in NYC, including the ability to build equity, potential price appreciation, inflation protection, long-term personal stability and the opportunity to add value over time through renovations.

Build Equity

Buying allows you to build equity over time instead of throwing away money on rent. 100% of any rent payment you make yields zero long-return.

As a homeowner, your mortgage will fully amortize over 15 to 30 years, leaving you with 100% equity ownership and a completely debt-free asset at retirement age.

While most of your mortgage payment over the first few years goes towards interest vs. paying down principal, mortgage interest is tax deductible if you itemize your deductions.

Price Appreciation

You also stand to benefit dollar for dollar when it comes to potential price appreciation as a homeowner. Moreover, this appreciation potential is on the entire purchase price (including the loan portion), which makes it far more lucrative compared to simply investing your down payment in the stock market or another unleveraged investment.

In other words, the leverage aspect of homeownership (long-term financing at a low interest rate) makes it one of the best potential investment opportunities. Contrast this with trying to obtain leverage on a stock or crypto portfolio, which comes with a minefield of risks including mark-to-market asset price volatility and associated margin-calls.

Inflation Protection

Buying real estate in NYC (or anywhere) is a great inflation hedge, particularly in the post-COVID era of worryingly high inflation. What better way to protect against skyrocketing rents than to own the home you’re living in?

Long-Term Personal Stability

One of the worst things about renting is knowing that a rent renegotiation and potentially having to move is always on the horizon. Time flies, particularly if you’re accustomed to one year leases.

As a homeowner, your monthly payment ‘economics’ are locked-in upfront. Your mortgage payment never changes, and any monthly common charges (or co-op maintenance payment) typically does not go up more than a few percentage points per year. Contrast this with post-COVID NYC, where rents went up 20% to 30% year over year.

As a renter, you’re constantly under threat of rent increases or the prospective an outright non-renewal should your landlord decide to move back in or gut renovate. The moment you own a home is the time you never have to worry about awkward negotiations with your landlord or having to hire sketchy and overpriced NYC moving companies.

Add Value Through Renovations

Another advantage to buying is that you can completely customize your space so it’s fully aligned with your personality and lifestyle. In addition to improving your quality of life, making updates and investing in more substantial renovations can also increase the market value of your home, thereby compounding your equity growth and ROI over the long-term.

How Much Do Homes Cost in NYC?

The median home price in NYC is between $700k and $800k. However, the potential price per square foot of homes in NYC varies wildly by borough (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, etc.) neighborhood (West Village, Financial District, Harlem, etc.) and property type (condo, co-op, townhouse, etc.).

What’s the cheapest apartment in Manhattan?

Acceptable entry-level apartments in NYC start in the $300k range.

For example, there are loads of small co-op studios available on the Upper East Side which start around $275k.

It’s possible to find less expensive apartments in very distant uptown neighborhoods, such as Hamilton Heights. You may also come across more centrally located apartments in the $200k range, however most of these are HDFC apartments (with income restrictions) or land lease buildings (which have very high monthly maintenance).

How much is a luxury condo in Downtown Manhattan?

A typical luxury, new construction condo in Lower Manhattan (excluding the Financial District) starts around $1,700 PPSF and can go up to $3,000 PPSF or more for the most exclusive and centrally located buildings. Expect to spend no less than $1,500,000 for a reasonably sized new development condo downtown with at least one bedroom. Keep in mind that buyer closing costs for new development apartments are higher, as we explain in this article.

How much is a two bedroom in Brownstone Brooklyn?

Households with more than 2 people often look to Brownstone Brooklyn as a more economical means of securing enough living space for the family. Reasonably sized two bedroom co-ops in Brownstone Brooklyn (neighborhoods such as Clinton Hill and Park Slope) start around $650k. These types of properties frequently generate best and final bidding wars due to the compelling combination of size, location and reasonable pricing.

How much does a Brooklyn Townhouse cost?

A typical townhouse in Brownstone Brooklyn is between $2 to $4 million. Gut renovated examples which are centrally located in neighborhoods like Park Slope can command prices well north of $5 million. Less expensive townhouses (which usually need major renovations) can be found in areas such as BedStuy or Bushwick for a starting price around $1.25 million.

There is typically a tradeoff between condition and location when it comes to townhouses in Brooklyn. For example, both a gut renovated, turn-key townhouse in Bushwick and an unrenovated brownstone in Stuyvesant Heights may ask a similar price of ~$1.5m.

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How Long Does it Take to Buy a Home in NYC?

It takes around three months to buy a home in NYC from the time you sign a purchase contract. Figure around four to six months in total to buy a home in NYC, factoring in the time it takes to browse properties, submit offers and complete buyer due diligence and contract negotiation once you have an accepted offer.

Townhouses (or any single or multi-family property) take the least amount of time to close.

An all-cash buyer can close on a townhouse in as quickly as 4 weeks. It typically takes around two months to close on a townhouse in the case of a financed buyer.

Co-ops take the longest to close due to the co-op board approval process. It usually takes at least three months (and possibly up to four months) to close on a financed co-op purchase in NYC. It still takes at least 8 weeks to close on a co-op in the case of an all-cash buyer.

Condos typically take around 10 weeks to close in the case of a financed buyer, and closer to 8 weeks in the case of an all-cash purchaser.

Refer to our detailed overview of the offer to closing timeline in NYC which is available here.

Should You Work With a Buyer’s Agent?

Over 75% of buyers in NYC work with a buyer’s agent because of the fact that sellers pay all real estate commissions, including the buyer broker fee. As a result, a typical home buyer in NYC does not incur any of-pocket cost for utilizing the services of a buyer’s agent.

Moreover, the typical seller does not save money on commission if a buyer is unrepresented.

The typical listing agreement stipulates a fixed total commission of 5% to 6% which is payable regardless of the representation status of the buyer.

Hauseit’s NYC buyer’s guide demystifies each step of the home buying process. Learn about closing costs, the purchase timeline, financial requirements and more.

If the buyer is unrepresented, the listing agent simply collects the entire commission.

There are several advantages to working with a buyer’s agent:

Provide Listing Ideas

A buyer’s agent can provide you listing ideas to jumpstart your search. While 99% inventory is accessible directly on consumer facing websites, a buyer’s agent can add value by pointing you in the direction of other neighborhoods or specific property types which you might not currently be considering.

Your buyer’s agent can also help you compare different listings and point out the key considerations when exploring property types (condo vs. co-op, etc.) and building types (pre-war, post-war, small, large, full-service, etc.).

Provide Advice and Guidance

Your buyer’s agent can serve as a useful resource to demystify the various steps of the purchase process. An experienced buyer’s agent will ensure you’re always prepared for the next phase of the buying process. Being nimble and organized is particularly important given the level of competition from other buyers. The best ‘coached’ and most prepared buyer ends up securing a hot listing 90% of the time.

Coordinate Showings

A buyer’s agent performs the role of a quasi-concierge in coordinating showings on your behalf and building efficient viewing schedules. This can simplify your search and eliminate the distraction and headache of having to liaise with numerous listing agents, who will all have wildly varying personalities, levels of professionalism, responsiveness and ethical principals, etc.

The worst part about contacting listing agents directly is the fact that you’ll be asked the same questions repeatedly while constantly being solicited.

Do you really want to have to answer questions like “Are you working with an agent?” and “Can I help with your home search?” every single time you just want to schedule a showing?

Obtain Answers to Questions

Your buyer’s agent can help answer questions regarding specific listings of interest. For example, does a co-op permit the installation of in-unit washer dryers? What is the co-op’s pet policy? Is there a weight limit or breed restriction for pets?

Your agent can also help obtain due diligence documents, such as building financial statements or the sublet application, for any listing you might want to make an offer on.

Negotiate on Your Behalf

Your buyer’s agent will submit offers and negotiate on your behalf. Prior to offer submission, a seasoned buyer’s agents will prepare a comparables analysis and connect with the listing agent to gather intel on the seller and the competitive landscape vis-à-vis other buyers/offers.

Aside from the offer price itself, your buyer’s agent can help craft other offer terms (such as contingencies) to make your offer as competitive as possible while aligning with your comfort level and degree of risk tolerance.

Assist with the Board Package

Your buyer’s broker will work with you on the preparation and submission of your condo or co-op building’s board package. Both condos and co-ops typically have some form of application which must be submitted shortly after signing the contract and obtaining your mortgage commitment letter (in the event you’re financing the purchase).

The board package process typically commences with your buyer’s agent sharing the application/instructions and walking you through the list of required documentation. Once you furnish all required items, your buyer’s agent will review for errors or omissions and then collate everything into a succinct package which is submitted to the building’s managing agent.

Make Introductions to Third Parties

A buyer’s agent can introduce you to the various third parties you’ll need in order to successfully navigate the purchase process, including real estate attorneys, mortgage bankers (or brokers) and home inspectors.

How Much Are Buyer Closing Costs in NYC?

Buyer closing costs in NYC are between 1.5% to 6% of the purchase price. Buyer closing costs are higher for condos vs. co-ops, and closing costs are the highest for new developments (also known as sponsor units). Refer to our comprehensive NYC buyer closing cost guide which is available here.

Estimate your buyer closing costs in New York City with Hauseit’s Interactive NYC Buyer Closing Cost Calculator.

The largest buyer closing costs in NYC include the Mortgage Recording Tax (1.8% to 1.925%) and the Mansion Tax (1% to 3.9%) on purchases of $1 million or more.

Other large buyer closing costs include Title Insurance for condos and houses, real estate attorney fees as well as lender, building and miscellaneous fees.

You can easily reduce or eliminate your buyer closing costs in NYC by requesting a Hauseit Buyer Closing Credit.

Buyer Closing Costs on an $800k Apartment

A buyer who is financing the purchase of an $800k apartment in NYC will pay approximately 3.25% in buyer closing costs in the case of a condo and approximately 1% in the case of a co-op.

An all-cash buyer will pay roughly 1.25% in buyer closing costs for an $800k condo and less than 1% in buyer closing costs in the case of a co-op.

Buyer Closing Costs on a $2m Apartment

A buyer who is financing the purchase of a $2,000,000 apartment in NYC will pay approximately 4% in buyer closing costs in the case of a condo and approximately 1.75% in the case of a co-op.

An all-cash buyer will pay roughly 2% in buyer closing costs for a $2m condo and approximately 1.5% in buyer closing costs in the case of a co-op.

Buyer Closing Costs on a $3m Townhouse

Buyer closing costs on a $3m NYC townhouse are roughly 4% in the case of a financed purchase and closer to 2% if paying all-cash.

Buyer Closing Costs on a $6m Townhouse

Buyer closing costs on a $6m NYC townhouse are roughly 4.5% in the case of a financed purchase and closer to 2.75% if paying all-cash.

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How to Reduce Your Buyer Closing Costs in NYC

The easiest way to eliminate or reduce your buyer closing costs in NYC is by working with a buyer’s agent who will offer you a buyer agent commission rebate. A buyer agent commission rebate is when your buyer’s agent agrees to give you a portion of the commission which is paid to your agent by the seller.

Receiving a buyer agent commission rebate is the single most effective way to reduce your buyer closing costs in NYC.

Buyer agent commission rebates are legal in New York and dozens of other states, including Florida.

Moreover, broker commission rebates are generally considered to be non-taxable.

At Hauseit, we offer buyer agent commission rebates in NYC, Long Island, the Hudson Valley and South Florida through our Hauseit Buyer Closing Credit service.

How Does the Mortgage Process Work in NYC?

The formal mortgage process commences at the time you sign a purchase contract. However, you’ll need to speak with a mortgage banker or broker prior to submitting an offer in order to obtain a pre-approval letter.

Keep in mind that you are not committed to actually applying with the institution who provides you with a pre-approval (or pre-qualification letter).

We recommend obtaining a pre-approval from a widely recognized, ‘household name’ bank.

This will give your offer more credibility in the eyes of the seller and listing agent.

It’s only at the time of a signed contract when you’ll need to formally shop for rates, choose a specific lending institution and submit an official application. This is also the point in time when your lender will typically ‘lock’ your interest rate.

The mortgage application process typically takes at least 4 weeks. Upon completion, your lender will issue a mortgage commitment letter. The commitment letter typically has several (hopefully minor) conditions which must be satisfied before the lender agrees to fund the loan. These conditions are most commonly requests for additional financial documentation, such as updated bank statements.

Refer to our comprehensive guide for the NYC mortgage process which is available here.

Do You Need a Real Estate Attorney?

Both buyers and sellers in NYC are required to work with a real estate attorney. As a buyer, your lawyer will handle contract negotiation as well as buyer due diligence. Due diligence is particularly important in the case of a condo or co-op building.

In addition to submitting a detailed questionnaire to the building’s managing agent, your lawyer will review the building’s financials, board meeting minutes and the Offering Plan.

Refer to our comprehensive guide for how to interview real estate attorneys which is available here.

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How are Condos and Co-ops Different?

Key differences between co-op and condo apartments in NYC include the purchase price, buyer and seller closing costs, subletting restrictions, down payment and buyer financial requirements, the board approval process as well as the underlying structure of individual apartment ownership.

Refer to our comprehensive comparison of condos and co-ops which is available here.

Price
Co-ops are anywhere from 10% to 40% less expensive than comparable condos in NYC.

The lower cost of co-ops is primarily due to the fact that there is a greater supply of them in the city.

In addition, typical co-op subletting restrictions deter investors from pursuing co-ops, thereby decreasing demand and pricing.

Buyer Closing Costs

Buyer closing costs are considerably higher for condos vs. co-ops due to title insurance and the Mortgage Recording Tax, neither of which apply to co-ops. There is less of a difference in buyer closing costs for condos vs. co-ops if you’re buying all-cash since the Mortgage Recording Tax is not applicable.

Refer to our detailed condo vs. co-op closing cost comparison which is available here.

Seller Closing Costs

Seller closing costs are typically lower for condos vs.co-ops. This is because most co-ops charge an additional seller closing cost which is called a flip tax.

Refer to our detailed condo vs. co-op closing cost comparison which is available here.

Subletting Restrictions

Nearly all co-ops have subletting restrictions in order to make sure that units remain owner-occupied. While specific subletting rules vary by co-op, most buildings require new purchasers to reside in the unit for at least one or two years upon closing before being eligible to sublet. Thereafter, co-op owners (also known as shareholders) are typically prohibited from subletting for more than two years during each successive five year period.

Refer to our detailed guide on co-op subletting rules which is available here.

Down Payment

The typical co-op in NYC requires a minimum down payment of 20%, and in some cases 35% or as high as 50% or more of the purchase price.

Buyer Financial Requirements

Typical co-op buyer financial requirements in NYC include a debt-to-income ratio between 25% to 35% and 1 to 2 years of post-closing liquidity.

Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio compares your monthly income against recurring monthly mortgage and co-op maintenance payments as well as any other recurring liability payments, such as a car lease or student loans. It’s important to note that the DTI ratio does not include your discretionary living expenses such as food or entertainment or any other forms of recurring monthly expenditures which do not appear on your credit report (such as a gym membership).

Post-closing (post close) liquidity forecasts how many months’ worth of apartment carrying costs (and other recurring liability payments) you will have readily available in liquid assets after you close on your apartment.

Board Approval Process

Both condos and co-ops have a board approval process, but co-op buildings are unique in that a co-op board may reject any proposed purchaser (or renter) without recourse or explanation. Condos rarely if ever reject a prospective purchaser, as this would obligate the condo building itself to exercise its right of first refusal and purchase the apartment at the same terms the seller negotiated with the prospective purchaser.

In other words, don’t expect to sidestep the application process altogether by purchasing a condo instead of a co-op. However, there is far less uncertainty and risk when it comes to the board approval process for condos compared to co-ops. In addition, condos typically do not require the purchaser to undergo a board interview as is the case with all co-ops.

Underlying Ownership Structure

Condo and co-op apartments have different underlying ownership structures. Buying a co-op apartment means you are purchasing shares in the corporation that owns the co-op building. Along with shares, you receive a proprietary lease which entitles you to occupy your specific apartment within the co-op.

A condo is a more traditional form of ‘real property’ ownership in that a unit owner receives a physical deed to the apartment.

The technical differences of the ownership structure between condos and co-ops have no impact on your ability to indefinitely own and occupy the apartment you purchase, whether it’s a co-op or condo.

Should You Buy an Investment Property in NYC?

New York City is a top worldwide destination for buyers of investment properties. Real estate in the city offers a compelling mix of advantages for investors. These benefits include the following:

  • Generally high creditworthiness of tenants due to the city’s large and vibrant economy and salary premium.

  • A lower risk of large increases in competing rental supply due to air rights & zoning restrictions.

  • Diversified mix of housing stock and investment properties, including townhouses, classic pre-war buildings and new developments across a myriad of high-quality neighborhoods.

  • Relatively attractive long-term price appreciation potential vs. other cities due to geographic limitations within NYC and associated shortage of empty lots and under-developed buildings (particularly within Manhattan).

These advantages explain why rental yields are considerably lower in NYC vs. most other large cities.

That being said, most investor buyers are perfectly happy with sacrificing a small amount of yield in exchange for buying what they feel to be the highest quality real estate asset with a lower risk profile.

Unfortunately, investing in NYC real estate isn’t without its share of risk. The court system in NY has become highly favorable to tenants at the expense of landlords of the past few decades. Most recently, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 significantly curtailed the rights of landlords in NYC. This legislation has made it extremely challenging, costly and time-intensive to evict tenants and sue for unpaid rent and/or damages.

In addition, there’s the constant threat of additional rent regulation in the form of potential good cause eviction legislation. As a result, be very careful when selecting tenants for investment properties in NYC. We also recommend diversifying a portion of your investment property holdings outside of NYC in order to mitigate political risk.

How Do Showings and Open Houses Work?

Attending open houses in NYC is as simple as showing up to the property during the advertised date and time window. If you’re working with a buyer’s agent, proper protocol is for your broker to ‘register’ you with the listing agent (at which point you can attend on your own). So please let your buyer’s agent know which open houses you plan on attending.

Keep in mind that many open houses in NYC are ‘by appointment only.’ This means that no walk-ins are permitted.

As a result, you (or your buyer’s agent) must reach out to the listing agent and request a specific time during the open house window.

For any listings which do not have an open house posted, simply let your buyer’s agent know when you’re available to view and she or he will coordinate with the listing agent.

How Does the Offer Process Work in NYC?

The offer process in NYC starts with you or your buyer’s agent emailing relevant offer terms and documentation to the listing agent. There is nothing binding about the act of submitting an offer in NYC. Even if your offer is accepted, nothing is legally binding until the time you sign the purchase contract.

Your offer terms include price, % down (if financing), contingencies, closing date as well as any other pertinent items such as an inspection request.

Offer documentation consists of your pre-approval letter (if financing), submit offer form or REBNY Financial Statement and proof of funds for the contract deposit. Optionally, you may also submit a purchaser bio and attorney contact information.

The REBNY Financial Statement is typically required in the case of a co-op. For condos, townhouses or houses, the submit offer form generally suffices.

Upon receipt of your offer, the listing agent will present it to the seller and hopefully come back with some form of counter within 24 hours. Keep in mind that the speed of a response as well as the number of rounds of negotiation vary by seller as well as the specific listing and competitive environment at the time you make an offer.

Refer to our detailed guide on how to make an offer on a condo in NYC which is available here.

Buying a co-op? Refer to this guide on how the offer process works for co-ops.

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What Happens After an Accepted Offer?

Once your offer is accepted, the listing agent will prepare a deal sheet with the negotiated transaction terms and circulate it to both buyer and seller attorneys as well as the buyer’s agent.

The listing agent will also furnish any due diligence documentation to the buyer’s lawyer.

In the case of condos and co-ops, this includes (but is not limited to) building financials, the Offering Plan, purchase & sublet applications, house rules as well as the building’s alteration agreement.

Upon receipt of the deal sheet, the seller’s attorney will prepare a draft contract and send it to your lawyer for review. Your lawyer will also commence buyer due diligence in parallel with contract negotiation. In the case of a condo or co-op, your lawyer will typically submit a detailed questionnaire to building management and make an appointment to review board meeting minutes.

You will be asked to sign the contract and make a contract deposit (customarily 10%) once contract negotiation is complete and your attorney has discussed both the final contract and due diligence findings with you.

Is a Home Inspection Necessary in NYC?

Home inspections are always done for townhouses and homes in NYC, but they’re uncommon for condos and co-ops. If you’re buying an apartment, it usually only makes sense to request an inspection under the scenarios:

  • It’s an estate sale

  • The apartment is wrecked or simply hasn’t been maintained in decades

  • The apartment is partially demolished or mid-way through a renovation

  • It’s a ground floor apartment

  • It’s a top floor apartment

  • The apartment has substantial outdoor space (roof deck, garden or sizable terrace)

Refer to our comprehensive guide on whether or not you should request an inspection.

What’s Next After a Contract is Signed?

The next step after going into contract is to submit the mortgage application if you’re financing. Upon submission, expect the underwriting process to take up to 4 weeks. The lender will also order an appraisal at some point during the underwriting process, however this generally happens the moment you pay the application fee to your lender.

Upon receipt of the commitment letter from your lender, you’ll need to submit your board package in the case of a condo or co-op purchase.

We recommend preparing the application in parallel with the loan process, so that you’re able to swiftly submit the application the moment the commitment letter is issued. The purchase contract may obligate you to submit it within a certain period of time, which is commonly no more than 5 or 7 days from the time the commitment letter is issued.

For an all-cash condo or co-op purchase, the next step after signing the purchase contract is to prepare and submit your board application.

Once the contract is signed, your attorney will order a title search (in the case of a condo, brownstone or house) or a lien search (in the case of a co-op).

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How Does Co-op Board Approval Work?

Co-op board approval in NYC consists of the buyer submitting an extensive application and undergoing an interview. The typical co-op board application requires the buyer to submit detailed personal financial information (financial statement, bank statements and tax returns), numerous signed disclosure forms, reference letters as well as copies of the purchase contract and the mortgage commitment letter (if applicable).

Most co-op boards take around 4 weeks to review an application, at which point the applicant may be invited for a board interview.

Please note that a co-op board has no obligation to interview an application. If a board does not like the application, it will typically reject the candidate outright without inviting the applicant to an interview.

It’s important to note that co-ops are not legally obligated to respond to applications within a set period of time, as is the case with condos. As a result, a co-op board could theoretically take considerably longer than 4 weeks to review an application.

This is rather uncommon but does happen from time to time, particularly in scenarios where the board has numerous applications to review at the same time or if board members are traveling for summer or winter holidays. In one example we’re familiar with, it took a Greenwich Village co-op board 12 weeks to respond to an application since there was a large number of sales in the building at the time and many board members were also traveling for summer holidays.

The co-op board typically makes a decision within a week of the interview. The building’s managing agent formally communicates the board’s decision to the buyer’s attorney, the buyer’s broker or both.

Refer to our detailed guide to co-op board approval which is available here.

How Does Condo Board Approval Work?

Many first-time buyers in NYC are surprised to hear that condos also have a board application process. While much of the application documentation is similar to what’s requested in the case of a co-op, the condo board approval process does not carry the same risk of rejection as with co-ops.

While a co-op may reject a buyer without any recourse, a condo may only reject a purchaser if it utilizes its right of first refusal to purchase the apartment under the same terms negotiated between buyer and seller.

Condos rarely if ever have the financial means or appetite to buy apartments, so the right of refusal is only exercised in highly remote and special circumstances.

For example, let’s say a rather irresponsible or mentally unwell condo owner is desperate for cash and decides to fire sale an apartment which is worth $1,000,000 for $150,000. In this instance, the condo board may opt to exercise its right of first refusal in order to stop this proposed resale from devaluing all other apartments in the building.

What Happens at the Closing?

During the closing you will sign a litany of settlement/recording and mortgage documents (if applicable) and pay the remaining balance of the purchase price or down payment if you’re financing. In exchange, the seller will sign over the deed (in the case of a condo, brownstone or house) or the proprietary lease (in the case of a co-op) and hand over the keys.

The closing venue is flexible. It can take place at the office of either the buyer’s or seller’s attorney, the condo or co-op managing agent’s office or the office of the title company.

Closings can also be entirely remote.

 

Congratulations on becoming a New York City homeowner!

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