CoopAndCondo.com - Addressing the realities of Residential Real Estate

From the Law Office of Ronald H. Gitter, Esq.

How to Avoid a Bad Building--Part I

       
How to Avoid a Bad Building--Part I

When Looking for an Apartment, What Exactly Should You Look For?

Every day, thousands of people in Gotham, armed with listings from newspapers like the Times and hundreds of Internet resources, hit the pavement to look for the elusive place to live. Everyone has his or her own personal shopping list: southern exposure, a terrace, high end appliances, health club facilities, proximity to public transportation. Those considerations are endless and personal. There are other factors that show go on the wish list, which are just as important as the river view and the closest Citarella. These less glamorous factors fall into two categories:

  • The financial condition of the building; and
  • The physical condition of the building.

What should you be looking for when it comes to these two critical areas of concern?

Judging a Building's Financial Status

Co-ops and condos operate in basically the same manner: each unit owner contributes a certain amount of money each month for the purpose of paying the common expenses of running a building. With a co-op, these monthly payments are known as "maintenance" and with a condo the monthly payments are known as "common charges". Depending upon the operating costs of the building and the necessity for repairs, the amount of monthly maintenance or common charges can vary significantly from building to building. Secondly, co-ops and condos also maintain cash reserves usually known as the "reserve fund" to handle unexpected repairs or anticipated capital improvements such as replacing a roof. As you might have guessed, it would serve your best interests to find a co-op or condo with the lowest possible monthly carrying charges and the highest possible cash reserves. Why? First of all, low monthly carrying costs make good financial sense because it helps you keep your monthly living expenses as low as possible. Secondly, high cash reserves allow a co-op or condo to pay for repairs or improvements out of the reserve fund rather than by increasing monthly carrying costs or by imposing special financial assessments on unit owners to pay for all or a portion of the repairs or capital improvements. Thirdly, buildings that have low monthly carrying charges and high cash reserves are more attractive to buyers, when you need to sell sometime in the future. Now for a little detective work.

What Should You Be Concerned About When a Building's Carrying Charges Appear High?

The primary reason why buildings suffer from high monthly carrying costs is because they have inadequate cash reserves to fund capital improvements and major repairs. Sooner or later, every building will be forced to replace the roof or boiler, redecorate the lobby and hallways, replace the central air conditioning system, re-point the facade of the building or make some other major capital improvement or repair. These types of repairs or improvements can be quite expensive, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes millions. There are a limited number of ways to pay for these expenses:

  • Out of cash reserves;
  • By increasing the monthly carrying charges;
  • By imposing a one-time special financial assessment; or
  • By refinancing the underlying mortgage on the co-op or by borrowing against a condo's future income (now possible) or against real estate owned by the condo (like the super's apartment).

When a building does not have adequate cash reserves, the vicious cycle of annual increases in maintenance or common charges begins and, in most cases, never stops. Unless you are looking at a building that is brand-spanking new, you must anticipate that major capital improvements will eventually have to be made. It simply cannot be avoided. But it gets a little tricky. Here's a "what if" check list for your consideration:

  • Large Cash Reserves, But Costly Capital Improvements-- What do we mean by large? Obviously the size of the building impacts on the significance of the amount of the building's cash reserves. Using a 200-unit building as an example, here are a few scenarios: Cash reserves in excess of $250,000 are adequate; cash reserves in excess of $500,000 are good; cash reserves in excess of $1,000,000 are very good. Even with high reserves, the issue is not resolved based solely on the amount of reserves the co-op or condo is presently holding. Once you've determined that your building has at least satisfactory cash reserves, you must determine the capital improvements and repairs that will be required over the next three to five year period. If you determine that your building needs to have its facade re-pointed, that cost alone could be in excess of $500,000. A new boiler could cost another $400,000. As you can see, even if a building has significant cash reserves, imminent capital improvements can use up a significant portion of the piggy bank.

  • Low Cash Reserves, But Few Needed Capital Improvements-- When you find a building with less than adequate cash reserves, it may not necessarily be a reason to walk away. Sometimes you will find a building that has just completed a major capital repair and replacement program, so that future repairs to mechanical systems or to the building's roof or facade are not anticipated. In that scenario, major capital improvements may not be required for a number of years. Although it is always best to find a building with at least adequate cash reserves, if you know that major capital improvements are unlikely for a number of years, the good physical condition of the building can balance out the negative impact of inadequate cash reserves.

  • High Cash Reserves and Few Needed Capital Improvements-- This is the optimum combination. There are buildings out there which have significant cash reserves and few capital improvements on the horizon. This combination bodes well for minimal annual carrying cost increases. Buildings in this category exist, they are just few and far between. Taking current economics into consideration, if you find an apartment in a building with this profile, consider yourself lucky.

Every building is a little different so the above rules have to be applied in a flexible manner.

Why Are High Monthly Carrying Charges Bad?

Here's a good general rule to keep in mind:

When you find a building with high monthly carrying charges,
the likely direction for the carrying charges in the future is... up.

Once a building is forced to increase the carrying charges to pay for capital improvements or unexpected repairs, it is difficult or impossible to get the costs to go down. But how do you know if monthly carrying charges are high in the first place? Assuming you've looked at a number of apartments, you'll soon find out what the monthly carrying charges should be for each category of apartment (studio, one bedroom, two-bedroom and beyond). With co-ops, once the carrying charges significantly exceed the square footage of the apartment, inquiry is required to determine why the monthly costs are higher than normal. Of course, other factors have to be considered: if the apartment is on the ground floor as opposed to a floor with view of Central Park, the maintenance on the higher floor apartment will generally be higher. Nevertheless, keep this rule in mind when you're running the numbers. Because a condo, historically, has lower monthly costs (since there is no underlying mortgage which the unit owners have to carry), it is more difficult to rely on a square footage analysis. Looking to comparable apartments may make more sense. In any event, crunching the numbers is essential as someone else will be doing the same number crunching when it's time to sell your apartment.

Obtaining Financing

High monthly carrying charges also can affect the amount of financing for which you may be able to qualify. The bank will analyze the amount of monthly expense you can handle based upon your monthly income. Depending upon your monthly income level, the higher carrying costs may diminish the amount of debt which the bank will let you carry.

Residential Reality: High Monthly Carrying Costs Are Never a Good Thing

Keep your emotional attachment to the apartment in check. Being trapped in a co-op or condo in bad financial condition can be worse than a subway car without air conditioning in the middle of August. It can take years to sell an apartment where the co-op or condo is in bad financial health. Your personal status can change and could require you to sell your apartment at an unexpected time. Your inability to freely trade your apartment can create serious financial problems and can impact on crucial life decisions. When analyzing the “feng shui” of your apartment, make sure you also determine whether building’s finances are headed in the right direction.

Simplifying the complexities of Cooperative and Condominium transactions in New York City

Asked and Answered

Q

I don’t smoke, but the smell of smoke is wafting into my apartment from my neighbor. Is there anything that can be done to remedy this condition?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m selling my co-op tomorrow and my bank attorney has not yet received the stock certificate and proprietary lease from my bank. Will the closing have to be adjourned?

Click for Answer...

Q

The seller has indicated that there was a leak in the bathroom from the apartment above that has been repaired in all respects? Can I rely on seller’s representation to that effect in the contact?

Click for Answer...

Q

My mortgage lender has informed me that the cooperative in which I am purchasing an apartment has inadequate insurance coverage and has requested that the co-op increase its coverage to meet the bank’s new minimum requirements. Can the bank withdraw its underwriting due to a lack of insurance coverage by the co-op?

Click for Answer...

Q

The commitment letter included a condition that my loan was subject to a “second review” by the investor to whom the loan will be sold. Has my commitment letter been issued?

Click for Answer...

Q

Can I purchase my co-op in the name of a trust?

Click for Answer...

Q

Can I allow the seller to remain in possession after closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

There’s a repair needed in the apartment that the Seller promises to remedy after the closing. Is that a good idea?

Click for Answer...

Q

Do I care who the bank attorneys are?

Click for Answer...

Q

Do I have to go to the closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

One of the conditions in my loan commitment states that the monthly maintenance cannot increase by more than five percent? Is that a problem?

Click for Answer...

Q

Can I have a roommate after I purchase my co-op apartment?

Click for Answer...

Q

Can I undertake renovations before the Closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

Do I need a home owner’s insurance policy for my apartment at the time of my closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

Should I let the broker do the walk through?

Click for Answer...

Q

Once I get a loan commitment, is my loan approved?

Click for Answer...

Q

When it comes to purchasing an apartment, what exactly is due diligence?

Click for Answer...

Q

Do I have to let the maintenance people in to fix a building system?

Click for Answer...

Q

Does my dog have to be interviewed by the Board?

Click for Answer...

Q

Is buying an apartment in a small building a good idea or a bad idea?

Click for Answer...

Q

Can I fudge on my numbers in my financial package to the Board?

Click for Answer...

Q

Should I use a mortgage broker or should I go direct to a bank?

Click for Answer...

Q

Should I have the apartment inspected before I sign the contract?

Click for Answer...

Q

Do I Really Have to Give the Board My Tax Returns?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am purchasing an apartment with extensive landscaping on the terrace. Can the co-op or condo make me remove landscaping that was existing at the time of my purchase?

Click for Answer...

Q

I have an opportunity to buy a garage space, but the sponsor is calling the arrangement a “license” rather than a “purchase”. Does that matter?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are considering an apartment that will require us to move the bathroom to another location in the apartment. Is such a move possible?

Click for Answer...

Q

The seller’s bank can’t locate the stock and lease for the co-op closing. Can we still close?

Click for Answer...

Q

The broker told me that I can adjourn the closing for 30 days? Is that correct?

Click for Answer...

Q

The Offering Plan for my condo indicates that the apartment has a “lot line” window. Is that a problem?

Click for Answer...

Q

My dog bit someone in the lobby and I have been notified that if it happens again, my dog will have to go. Does the Board have the power to restrict me from having a pet?

Click for Answer...

Q

There is an unobstructed view from the apartment I am considering, but there is a vacant lot directly in front of that side of the building. Is that reason for concern?

Click for Answer...

Q

The Managing Agent called and it looks like my finances will not be sufficient to get Board approval. Is there anything I can do?

Click for Answer...

Q

The managing agent has had our application to purchase a cooperative apartment for three weeks and nothing has happened. Is there anything we can do to move things forward?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are considering an apartment in a co-op where the sponsor still owns units. Is that a problem?

Click for Answer...

Q

The seller’s apartment presently has a storage unit. Does the storage unit transfer with the apartment?

Click for Answer...

Q

We’re closing in three weeks, but our lease is up next week. Can we move in before the closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

I just did the walk through on the purchase of a sponsor unit and we have an extensive punch list. Will the punch list be completed by the time of closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m buying an apartment from a sponsor and the Offering Plan requires me to pay the sponsor’s transfer taxes and attorneys fees. Do I have to?

Click for Answer...

Q

The purchase price of my apartment is over $1,000,000.00. Is the transaction subject to the “mansion tax"?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m selling my apartment, but I’m not a resident of New York State. Are there any special closing costs?

Click for Answer...

Q

We did the walk through and the apartment was filthy. The contract required the apartment to be “broom clean”. Can we complain at the closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

I have to sell my apartment in order to afford the new one I’d like to buy. Can the contract be contingent on the sale of my existing apartment?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m a famous person (no, I really am) and I really don’t want my financial information given to eight strangers on a co-op Board. Is there a way to avoid that?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m the executor of the estate of a deceased shareholder. Do I have to go to the closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

I just graduated law school and have a job with a large law firm. I have a significant salary, but no liquidity or significant assets. Will I be able to buy a co-op?

Click for Answer...

Q

The listing indicates that the apartment has “roof rights”. How can I be sure?

Click for Answer...

Q

When buying a condo, is it worth the time and effort to get an assignment of the seller’s mortgage?

Click for Answer...

Q

The Seller removed an expensive chandelier right before Closing. Is that permitted?

Click for Answer...

Q

My husband and I found an apartment we love, but there’s a bidding war. Should we participate?

Click for Answer...

Q

We love the apartment, but the building has bad financials. Should we go ahead?

Click for Answer...

Q

My closing is in December, but the lease for my apartment does not expire until the following March. What do I do with my lease?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are buying a condo, but we have a delayed closing as the seller has a tenant in place for the next six months. We will be able to retain our loan commitment for an extended period of time?

Click for Answer...

Q

Should my husband and I take title as tenants by the entirety, tenants in common or as joint tenants?

Click for Answer...

Q

When a gay couple buys the shares of a cooperative or buys a condominium apartment, what is the best way to hold title?

Click for Answer...

Q

I have not been able to make my co-op mortgage payment for the past three months. If the bank declares my loan in default, how long will it take before the bank forecloses on my apartment?

Click for Answer...

Q

A co-op owner asks: I have found that maintenance is usually higher in coops than in condos because of the contribution by the shareholders to the building's underlying mortgage payments. In condos, the unit owners only pay for real estate taxes and common charges for common areas. Will the monthly maintenance be reduced after the underlying mortgage has been fully amortized?

Click for Answer...

Q

Can a corporation or other business entity own the shares of a cooperative apartment?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m buying an apartment in a building designated as a “landmark.” Should I be concerned?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am buying a co-op that needs major renovations. The super has offered to do the work at a significant discount. Is that a good idea?

Click for Answer...

Q

We just submitted the Board package and we realize that we neglected to disclose a lawsuit against my husband’s company, in which my husband is named as a defendant? The lawsuit is covered by insurance and my husband is indemnified from liability by his employer. Should we notify the managing agent and amend the purchase application?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are negotiating the contract and we just found out that there is a substantial assessment that will go into effect the month that we close on the purchase. Should the assessment be deducted from the purchase price at closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

The bank attorney was two hours late to the closing. Was that my attorney’s fault?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m buying a cooperative apartment in Manhattan, but I move out to the Hamptons from June to the end of September each year. Will I be able to sublet the apartment each year when I’m away?

Click for Answer...

Q

I just got the purchase application package and it's twenty pages long. Should my broker be helping me with organizing the required documents?

Click for Answer...

Q

It’s the day before the closing and I just found out that the maintenance for the apartment is higher than the maintenance stated in the contract. Is that grounds to terminate the contract?

Click for Answer...

Q

The financials for the condo are more than a year out of date and there is a delay issuing the new financials. Should I be concerned?

Click for Answer...

Q

The contract requires “official bank funds” in the form of certified or official bank checks. Can I bring “official" checks from my brokerage account?

Click for Answer...

Q

My parents want to buy me an apartment while I’m in graduate school in Manhattan. Will a co-op allow me to purchase the apartment, if my parents are co-owners?

Click for Answer...

Q

I obtained sole ownership of my condo in my divorce, but the deed for the apartment is still in both of our names. Will my ex-spouse’s cooperation be required when I’m ready to sell the apartment?

Click for Answer...

Q

I just found out I have to pay a fee to have my mortgage recorded. Is that right?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am buying an apartment in a small building and I just found out that the elevator is being renovated and will be out of service for three months. Do I have to close if the elevators will not be operational on the closing date?

Click for Answer...

Q

My husband and I own a co-op and we would like to transfer the shares to an irrevocable trust that we recently created for estate planning purposes. Will our cooperative allow us to make that transfer?

Click for Answer...

Q

The seller is a foreign citizen and does not have a social security number. Does that prevent the seller from selling the apartment?

Click for Answer...

Q

An “assessment” was imposed by the co-op Board after the contract was signed. Is payment of the assessment the seller’s responsibility?

Click for Answer...

Q

There is a leak in my apartment and the Resident Manager is not being responsive. Should I call the Board president?

Click for Answer...

Q

I just bought an apartment and I am only refinishing the floors and repainting. Do I need the consent of the Board before I get started?

Click for Answer...

Q

The co-op I’m interested in is pet friendly and I have a dog. Is there any chance the Board could approve my application without approving my pet?

Click for Answer...

Q

We purchased our apartment in January, but our first mortgage payment is not due until March 1st. Why isn't the first payment due February 1st?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m buying an apartment from a sponsor and the contract does not provide for a “mortgage contingency”. Is that a provision that I can negotiate into the contract?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am buying an apartment from a sponsor and the contract provides for the buyer to pay the sponsor’s transfer taxes and legal fees? Is that normal?

Click for Answer...

Q

I'm buying a condo and my attorney just ordered the "title report". What's a title report?

Click for Answer...

Q

There is a leak in my apartment and the Resident Manager is not being responsive. Should I call the Board president?

Click for Answer...

Q

My boyfriend and I are interested in buying our first apartment in a new construction condominium. Our mortgage broker tells us we should qualify for a 90% loan, but it will be a close call for the bank. The sponsor wants us to sign a “no contingency” contract. Is that a good idea?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are considering a condo purchase in a new development that is only 25 percent sold. There is a bank that has approved the project and will make the loan, but should we be concerned about the number of units that the sponsor still has to sell?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are buying an apartment that has been extensively renovated. Among other things, the size of the master bath was significantly increased. Can we rely on a representation in the contract that all required approvals were obtained from both the Cooperative Corporation and from the New York City Department of Buildings?

Click for Answer...

Q

We received a draft of the contract of sale for the cooperative apartment we are buying and our social security numbers are on the front page! Our attorney told us that we will have to provide our identification numbers to the managing agent for a credit check as a part of the Board package, so it’s not a big deal. Do we have to list our socials on the contract?

Click for Answer...

Q

The listing stated that the apartment was 1,100 square feet, but the appraisal measured the apartment at 900 square feet. Can we cancel the contract and get our money back?

Click for Answer...

Q

I'm about to pay off my co-op loan. What evidence will I have from the bank that the loan has actually been paid off?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am considering an apartment in a new construction condominium. There is park under development by New York City that will greatly enhance the value of the condominium when it’s completed. Although the sponsor’s salesperson indicated that the first phase of the park will be completed in the next year or so, the Offering Plan contains a “Special Risk” that states that the sponsor gives no assurance as to when, if ever, the park will be completed. Who and what should I believe?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are in negotiations to purchase a co-op apartment on the Upper East Side. Our lawyer reviewed the minutes and discovered that the building has a bedbug infestation. Should we go forward with our purchase?

Click for Answer...

Q

My purchase application was approved by the co-op Board, but it is conditioned upon my providing a maintenance deposit and guaranty by my parents. Do I have to comply with the conditions?

Click for Answer...

Q

At my closing, I had to reimburse the Seller for his New York State “STAR” rebate that appeared on the maintenance statement for the month following the Closing. What exactly is the STAR rebate and will I be able to obtain the rebate as well?

Click for Answer...

Q

I'm selling my co-op next month and my attorney aked me to "freeze" the line of credit I have with my bank. What exactly do I have to do?

Click for Answer...

Q

I just found out that the seller will be unable to close for an additional two weeks. As a result, I will have to extend my rate lock, at a cost of $1,200.00. Is the seller obligated to reimburse this cost?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am buying a new construction condo and the Offering Plan is over 400 pages. Do I need to read the entire Offering Plan?

Click for Answer...

Q

We ran across a co-op that has a few “sponsor owned” apartments for sale. Is there any advantage in buying one of the remaining sponsor apartments?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am about to make an offer on an apartment, but I have not been provided with the current financial statements for the co-op. Am I entitled to review the financials before I make my offer?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are selling our apartment to our neighbor, but our neighbor can’t afford to purchase our apartment unless she sells her apartment. Her lawyer wants the contract to provide that the purchase of our apartment is contingent upon the sale of her apartment. Our lawyer is advising us against including a provision that makes the transaction contingent on the sale of the buyer’s apartment. Should we go along with the contingency?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are selling our co-op and the buyer is not obtaining a mortgage in connection with the purchase. The contract required the Board package to be submitted within 10 business days after the fully-executed contract was returned to the buyer. The buyer is two weeks late in submitting the package. Is the buyer in default?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’m selling my condo and I have not been able to pay my common charges for the past six months (I lost my job). I have a buyer for the apartment, but the Board of Managers will not release the Waiver of the Right of First Refusal, unless I pay the outstanding balance of the common charges. I’m between a rock and a hard place, as I don’t have the money. What should I do?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am combining two adjacent apartments that I own and I want the co-op to issue one stock certificate for both apartments. There is an outstanding UCC lien against one of the apartments. The other apartment is owned free of any liens. Can the co-op object to the combination?

Click for Answer...

Q

My attorney asked me to contact the managing agent to verify the maintenance and assessment information that's disclosed in the contract for the apartment I intend to purchase. Isn't that my attorney's job?

Click for Answer...

Q

Our application to purchase a co-op was turned down by the Board without an interview. Although our attorney asked the managing agent to disclose the reasons for the Board’s decision, none were given. Can the Board just turn our application down without any explanation?

Click for Answer...

Q

My bank issued a loan commitment, but then withdrew its underwriting because private mortgage insurance was not available. Will I have a problem canceling the contract and getting my deposit back?

Click for Answer...

Q

The seller has a storage bin, but the contract indicates that the apartment does not come with a storage bin. If I buy the apartment, can I be sure that a storage bin be avaialable?

Click for Answer...

Q

I’ve been asked to serve on the Board of my co-op. Could I be held liable if the co-op is a party to a law suit?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am buying a co-op in Manhattan. The managing agent is located in Brooklyn and refuses to send a closing representative to the attorney’s office for the buyer or seller located in Manhattan. Will everyone have to go to Brooklyn for the closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

We are purchasing a condo that was occupied by a tenant at the time the contract was executed. We just did the walk through and there is damage to a portion of the floor that was hidden by the tenant’s furniture. Are we entitled to a repair credit at Closing?

Click for Answer...

Q

A loan commitment was issued, but the bank requested an explanation for a $14.00 missed credit card payment that occurred nine years ago. Could the bank withdraw its commitment as a result of this missed payment?

Click for Answer...

Q

I'm selling my co-op, which I own with my mother and father. Is it okay to have the closing checks made out to the three of us?

Click for Answer...

Q

A leaking pipe inside the wall of my co-op was recently replaced. The following month, my maintenance account was charged $1,000.00 on the theory that the pipe only serviced my apartment. Am I responsible for this repair?

Click for Answer...

Q

A condo buyer has a mortgage contingency, but the closing will not take place for six months as the seller has a tenant in the apartment. When should the purchaser apply for financing?

Click for Answer...

Q

We submitted our Board package a month ago, but the Board has not scheduled an interview or asked for any additional information. To make matters worse, the managing agent won’t give us any indication as to what’s going on. Is there anything we can do?

Click for Answer...

Q

My co-op contract included the seller’s flat screen, but the bank underwriter required that it be removed from the contract as it was “impacting” loan to value. Can the bank do that?

Click for Answer...

Q

I am buying an apartment in a small co-op that is self managed. How does the bank obtain the required “co-op questionnaire” in order to complete its underwriting?

Click for Answer...

Contact Ron Gitter

Buying or Selling? Email me at