CoopAndCondo.com - Addressing the realities of Residential Real Estate

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

Manhattan Numerology: Separating Fact From Fluff

       
Manhattan Numerology: Separating Fact From Fluff

Moving Past Doom and Gloom

With all the negative press of late about the future of residential real estate nationally, a dose of local number crunching might go a long way to demonstrate what is common knowledge to those of us who live and work on island: Manhattan just doesn't behave like the rest of the country when it comes to residential real estate activity.

Deconstructing the Numbers

In order to prove my point, I peppered Noah Rosenblatt, of Urbandigs.com, with a number of questions about sales activity in the Manhattan market using his inventory and sales tracking database. Here's our conversation:

RG: Just so we have a baseline, how would you describe the real estate data that Urbandigs is tracking?

NR: The system tracks Manhattan residential inventory as it moves from one listing status to another. All listings follow a general flow: new on market, to off-market, to back on market; in contract; and finally, closed transactions. By formulating tracking metrics to cleanse REBNY's "RLS" Manhattan industry listing database (which accounts for 92 percent of Manhattan listings), we ensured the highest data accuracy by avoiding redundancy and double counting and by removing stale or obsolete listings that never were updated by the listing agents.

What the Numbers Tell Us

RG: Compared to the first five months of 2010, how does 2011 look to you? In your view, have we hit bottom or are we bouncing along the bottom?

NR: Although I would call the first five months of both 2010 and 2011 thus far to be very strong, the pace of demand this year is slightly lower than 2010.

RG: Has Manhattan hit bottom?

NR: I think the Manhattan market actually bottomed back in early to mid 2009, when fear was highest and deals that did take place reflected the steepest discounts from peak levels. Since then, it has been a progressive improvement starting with the lower end. The data shows that the high end really started to get hot in late 2010 and continued into early 2011.

RG: Can you reach any conclusions on how much of a decline in apartment values has occurred in Manhattan "post Lehman," that is, since September 2008?

NR: Well, despite the limitations to evaluating "median" pricing and "average" pricing data, both of which have flaws, the decrease in residential real estate value in Manhattan since the crash looks something like this:

Properties under $1,000,000: currently down 7-10% (down 15-20% at the bottom)

Properties up to $2,000,000: currently down 9-12% (down 18-25% at the bottom)

Properties up to $5,000,000: currently down 12-15% (down 20-30% at the bottom)

Properties above $5,000,000: currently down 15-20% (down 25-35% at the bottom)

RG: What are the hottest areas of Manhattan in terms of sales this year?

NR: In terms of pending sales this year, Gramercy/Flatiron, Upper West Side and Tribeca, in that order.

RG: What were the average number of contracts signed per month in 2011? How does that compare to 2010 and previous years?

NR: To be consistent, let's compare the average number of new contracts signed for the first five months of each year since 2008:

2011 -- 899 new contracts signed per month;

2010 -- 957 new contracts signed per month;

2009 -- (post-Lehman) 583 new contracts signed per month;

2008 -- (pre-Lehman) 1134 new contracts signed per month.

RG: By percentage, what type of apartments sales are driving the Manhattan market this year?

NR: Right now, the high end is really on fire. Both the two million to five million and five million plus markets are seeing very solid pending sales up trends. Money has definitely been going into Manhattan luxury properties in the last six to eight months.

RG: So on the "rising tide lifts all boats" theory, will there be a trickle down to lower price points?

NR: It's certainly possible, but I don't like to predict future price action in any market category. If the reports come out showing strength, it's likely there will be a minor media effect that enhances confidence in all price points, including the lower end. Still, in my view, for Manhattan, it's all about sales in particular buildings and neighborhoods and not about market sales as a whole.

Getting a Grip on "Lagging Sales" and the Importance of Inventory Levels

RG: Real estate data is always a reflection of what has happened as opposed to what the future may bring. Is it possible to craft predictions of future activity, based upon tracking contract signing and closings in real time?

NR: Due to the delay in the reporting of closed transactions as reflected in the New York City ACRIS database, all industry reports that focus on closed sales will be a four- to six-month rearview mirror of the marketplace. The only way to get a real time picture of the market, is to move away from actual sales data and focus on the pace of inventory trends; that is, pending sales (signed contracts), active inventory (new product coming to market), and off-market trends (properties removed from active status for a variety of reasons). Taken together, it's the most real-time picture of the current state of the Manhattan marketplace. You have to track off-market trends because if active inventory falls, one may misinterpret that as a function of rising demand. But in reality, inventory levels can and do fall as a function of rising off-market trends as well. It's possible to take this real time information and make predictions on future activity, but I stay away from my crystal ball unless the macro environment is clear on where the local and national economies are heading. In an artificially induced Fed-driven asset reflation environment like we see today, I continue to question the sustainability of the pace of improvement we have seen over the past few years.

RG: New York included?

NR: Yes. Although the Manhattan market has proven to be the most resilient market in the country following a severe credit crisis, no trend goes one way forever. If we do see unintended consequences from Fed policy actions taken to stem deflationary pressure, Manhattan likely will not be immune to the psychological forces that occur during downward asset cycles. Emotions will always play a role in real estate transactions.

RG: How do you describe the current state of the market to your potential buyers?

NR: I tell them exactly what the broader market, plus their targeted submarkets, are signaling in real time -- whatever that may be. Although the Manhattan market may be very active, it's possible the targeted submarket that is of interest to the buyer may be under or over performing the broader trends. So I generally give new and existing clients a broad market report plus a more granular report of the markets they are interested in. Today, most markets and submarkets are performing well. When it comes to a price opinion on a specific property, I always perform a comparable market analysis with similar sales from the same building. In essence, every building in Manhattan is its own little marketplace.

Predictions

RG: There is a bottomless pit of enthusiasm for predicting the future of real estate prices. How does the balance of 2011 look to you?

NR: I think the performance of the mid- and high-end markets in the past few months will eventually be interpreted as an improvement in those markets when those deals close. Since most industry reports focus on sales that have occurred over the past four to six months, it's likely readers will interpret those reports as reflective of the current market at the time the reports are released. In reality, those lagging sales may or may not be indicative of future trends.

RG: Time for your crystal ball.

NR: Given the pending sales trends for the 2-5 million and five million plus price points as reflected in the Urbandigs tracking data, it looks like we have many higher end properties still waiting to close. So, I'm fairly optimistic that the next two quarters will show market stability, if not increased pricing.

RG: You are fairly optimistic in what sense? I'm not fishing for a prediction, just curious about what you mean.

NR: Pending sales are at a high point right now, up from much lower levels five to six months ago. The market has performed wonderfully in terms of new deal volume and I can tell from the charts that the higher end is outperforming. At some point, these deals will close and will be counted in the quarterly reports. So near-term, I'm bullish in regard to what the future reports will say and its impact on the market.

Residential Reality: Real Time Data May Be a More Accurate Read of Market Trends

The vast majority of real estate tracking data shows past performance by month, quarter or year. The trackers of record, such as Case Shiller, will always use that data to make predictions about future performance. At least in Manhattan, there may be a better view of what the future might bring, by digesting the transaction data as it actually occurs and by tracking inventory levels in real time. All bets could be off depending upon macro developments such as increased unemployment or global developments, like a certain country defaulting on its obligations. That being said, it might be time to use the rearview mirror for what it's good for: a view of what's behind us.

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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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

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

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

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Do I care who the bank attorneys are?

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Do I have to go to the closing?

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

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

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Can I undertake renovations before the Closing?

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

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Should I let the broker do the walk through?

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

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

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

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Does my dog have to be interviewed by the Board?

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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?

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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?

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

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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?

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

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

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

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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?

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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?

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

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

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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?

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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?

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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?

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

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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?

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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?

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

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

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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?

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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?

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

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

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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?

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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?

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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?

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

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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?

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

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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?

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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?

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

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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?

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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?

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

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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?

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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?

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

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

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

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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

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

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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Contact Ron Gitter

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