Tips for First-Time Buyers

Tips for First-Time Buyers

NY Times
Buying your first home in New York City is a daunting task. The median price for a Manhattan apartment recently reached nearly $1 million, with reports from major brokerage firms placing the price at $999,000 and $998,000, sums that would buy a mansion in many parts of the country. Competition is fierce, and bidding wars are practically the norm for anything that is halfway decent. Not to mention the level of scrutiny buyers must endure if they want to live in one of the city’s co-op apartments, which make up roughly 75 percent of Manhattan’s nonrental housing stock.

Here are some of the steps you need to take to buy an apartment in New York.


Buyers should plan to put at least 20 percent down in order to be taken seriously. That’s right, for a $500,000 apartment, you’ll need a down payment of $100,000, and that does not include closing costs.

Be prepared for other charges large and small. Among the larger is the 1 percent surcharge on sales of $1 million or more in New York City, known as the mansion tax. Among the smaller incursions on your wallet: the co-op lien search fee (roughly $300), the board package fee ($500 to $2,000), the appraisal ($300 to $1,500), the condo municipal search ($350 to $500) and so on. Brokerage firms including Douglas Elliman and Town Residential offer a laundry list of estimated closing costs on their websites.


Unless you are sitting on a substantial nest egg or are being financed by a benevolent relative, you will need a loan to afford your first place in New York City. Banks use credit scores, also known as FICO scores, to evaluate the potential risk of lending to individuals. The higher the number, which runs from 300 points to 850 points, the better your credit score.

Knowing your score well in advance will give you time to clean up any mistakes, like tax liens that were paid off many years ago or parking tickets that should have been expunged, said Peggy Dahan, an associate broker with Siderow Residential Group. “Sometimes it takes months to clear it up, and by then the seller has sold your dream apartment and we are back to Square One.”

Knowing your score will also give you time to boost your number by paying down credit card debt if your balances are on the high side. The three major credit-reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, generate their own FICO scores based on the data they collect. To find out where you stand, go to, which offers a free report annually.



Not to be confused with a prequalification, which is essentially a crude calculation of how much of a loan you might qualify for, a preapproval is a written estimate from the lender stating how much you will likely be able to borrow based on an initial review of your credit and financial information. The application often requires submitting pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns and other financial documents. Most lenders charge nothing for the application, since they are hoping to win your business, but you may be socked for around $100 to cover the cost of a credit check.

Why not wait until you’ve actually found a place to get a preapproval letter for a mortgage? Because it will help you determine how much you can afford. (You will also need it when you’re ready to submit an offer to provide assurance to the seller that you will be able to secure financing.) Preapproval letters typically expire between 90 and 120 days, but can be quickly updated with a phone call to the lender.


Once you have a sense of your budget, you can start searching for an apartment in earnest. Websites and apps from, StreetEasy and Trulia eliminate some of the work by automating the search. The sites will email you new listings that meet your requirements, save them and notify you when there are open houses or price changes. You can type in an address in StreetEasy to find out what else is for sale in a given building and how much apartments sold for previously.


Apartments come mainly in two forms in New York City — co-op and condo. In a co-op, short for cooperative housing, you are buying shares in a corporation that will give you a proprietary lease in the building.

When you a buy a condo, you own the unit outright. In both cases, buyers will be asked to submit financial information including net worth, liquid assets, annual income and other financial documents. Co-ops tend to subject potential shareholders to more rigorous scrutiny, often requiring reams of personal as well as financial information.

“They’re going to undress you and you have to really reveal yourself,” is how Robert Dankner, the president of Prime Manhattan Residential, explains the excruciating process to first-time buyers. “It’s the price of entry and a rite of passage to buying in a co-op in Manhattan.” A co-op can turn down a sale for any reason it pleases as long as it does not discriminate illegally.

Co-op financial requirements can prove difficult for first-time buyers. Some co-ops don’t allow financing; others require buyers to show they have a year’s worth of mortgage and maintenance fees in the bank.

“Who can do that, really, as a normal person, while paying rent?” said George Sholley, a 29-year-old executive producer at a New York advertising agency. In the end, he opted for a condo.

“I had been trying to buy a place since 2012,” he said, noting that he was outbid three times by buyers with more cash on hand. Earlier this year, with the help of his agent, Scott Sobol, a salesman at Compass, Mr. Sholley bought a studio for $670,000 in a condominium conversion in Hell’s Kitchen. “It was a bit more expensive than I was hoping,” he said, but compared with the co-ops he had tried to buy, “it was a smoother process over all.”


It’s helpful to visit a range of open houses in order to narrow your preferences, including how far you really want to be from the subway when it snows, how out of breath you are on the third flight of a sixth-floor walk-up, and what is meant by loft, railroad flat, Junior Four and so forth. Neighbors may have information on individual buildings and neighborhood goings-on.

And open houses can also be a good way to meet real estate agents with whom you might consider working. If you like a particular building, a broker who does a lot of business there might be able to alert you to an apartment coming on the market. The doorman may be able to guide you to an agent in the know or to the soon-to-be-available apartment.


Look for an agent and a real estate lawyer who have established track records working with buyers in your situation, and who will get back to you promptly. Continue reading > > >
via NY Times | Lead image: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

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