Buying a co-op or condo in New York City is never a simple process, and that's especially true during today's fast paced market. You need to act fast—which these days means making an offer based on what you can see at a showing or open house, where other interested buyers are also circling the waters. You will need to distinguish what's a deal-breaker and what's something you can use to negotiate. And the more well-educated the questions you ask, the more confidence you are instilling in the seller that you will close the deal. Here are some things to look at and ask when you're viewing a unit in today's competitive market.
Does the Apartment Have a Good Flow?
Some NYC apartments have truly strange layouts, the bathroom is next to the kitchen or you need to go through the bedroom to get to it.
With prewar co-ops, what you see is often what you get in terms of layout. Some buildings are just not going to be open to changing the location of the bathroom or kitchen due to "wet over dry" rules, meaning a bathroom or kitchen directly above a living room or bedroom, —and if they do, it could cost you a pretty penny. Look at the floorplan before you go—you can rule out many places by doing this. A knowledgeable broker can also tell you which walls are load-bearing or not, such as if you want to open up the kitchen, and certainly having a trained eye with you for a viewing is a huge help. You also may not like the seller’s renovation if they did one and want to invest in your own. Just be sure to delve into the building's alteration agreement before signing the dotted line: If they only allow two renovations a year, you might not be able to start until later than you'd like.
Look at the Ceilings and Walls
You will want to ask yourself if the ceilings are high enough, and if the walls are sturdy and sound-insulating. The higher the ceilings – the better the resale value. While there’s nothing you can do about concrete ceilings, you might be able to raise a dropped ceiling to gain a few or more extra inches and precious headspace.
As for the walls, there’s nothing more annoying that having to deal with the noise that is a result of thin walls. To test the quality of walls at an open house, have your spouse or broker go in one room and knock (and say something) while you are in the adjacent one. If you can hear it clear as day, ask yourself how much you will be able to tolerate the commotion 24/7.
How Are the Windows and Is There Good Light?
South-facing apartments and corner units with multiple exposures trump other lines due to the great natural light they provide. If the windows are too high, or too small and set too low, the unit may be too dark. The windows may also be facing another apartment or an interior brick wall, and that view is never going to change. Be realistic about compromising on access to sunlight and/or privacy, day in and day out. If you are going to be paying for views, consider the chances those might be obstructed by another development.
Views aside, the actual windows matter: Triple-pane windows are the gold standard for blocking out noise and for energy efficiency. Most new developments will have these, but not necessarily pre- and postwar buildings. Older single-pane windows will be incredibly noisy if you are facing a major avenue, but that doesn't have to rule out the apartment, since you can install soundproofing interior windows. If you’re replacing the windows, most co-ops will require approval of any windows that face the exterior. If you plan to stick with the existing windows, be sure to try them out to see how easy they are to open and close.
Is There Closet Space?
Prewar apartments often have high ceilings and grand entries but little in the way of closets by today's standards. You might be able to build out what you have given sufficient square footage and budget, or you can always go with a custom closet company. Just make sure you keep in mind your family’s needs.
What’s the Condition of the Kitchen and Bathrooms?
Can you live with the kitchen “as is”? consider the scope of a kitchen renovation and if it’s an extensive one, it should reflect in your offer (or signal you to pass on the unit). If you plan to live with the current kitchen, make sure all cabinets and drawers can actually open, test out the appliances, look inside the fridge and freezer and make sure it all works as intended.
Remember those wet over dry rules? They mean that many apartments will have tiny bathrooms due to the restriction, especially in a prewar co-op. Make sure the fixtures and fittings are all in working order, test the height of the showerhead and beware of cheap or subpar features.
Is the Plumbing Working Properly?
Go ahead and test all faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms as you make your way through the apartment to make sure there is both hot and cold water and of reasonable pressure. Check for leaks and drips too and flush the toilets.
Is the Electrical Wiring Updated?
In a prewar building, find out when/if the electrical wiring has been upgraded and whether the amperage is satisfactory for the size of the apartment. If it hasn't been updated, it's unlikely your wiring will be in line with the city's energy codes and you might need to increase your load to run new appliances.
Air Conditioners, Washer/Dryers, and Outdoor Space
Did the seller put in central air? If not, find out whether you would be able to convert to central air according to the building's policies. If there is no thermostat installed, how do you control the heat of radiators?
Do you absolutely need a washer and dryer in the unit? Is it allowed? If so, what steps are needed for running the gas line and venting the dryer?
After the past three years, you may care a lot about having outdoor space. Whether it’s a wraparound terrace or a modest Juliet balcony, inspect the condition of the terrace and look for signs of leakage from the terrace above you too.
Make Sure the Common Areas Are Well-Maintained, and Ask Yourself if the Amenities Are Worth It
The apartment might be great but what about the lobby and hallways, or the stairs in a classic five-floor walk-up? If they aren’t well maintained, it could also signal the building lacks a reserve fund and has a mindset to spend as little as possible, so think about whether that's what you want to buy into. Because if they are not spending the money on what's obvious and apparent, they might be hedging their bets on what's not visible, like the maintenance. When looking at amenities, they should be purposeful and not require tons of upkeep. an on-site gym and children's playroom, for example, cost a lot less money than a pool – meaning smaller increases in common charges.
So the next time you go to an open house, use your fifteen minutes well by remembering this handy checklist! An agent who is a pro in the field will also know to direct and remind you of these.
Source: Brick Underground