CoopAndCondo.com - Addressing the realities of Residential Real Estate

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

Life's Not Fair--More About Purchasing From a Sponsor

       
Life's Not Fair--More About Purchasing From a Sponsor

April 12, 2010

The Financial Shake Out

When I first wrote about this topic a number of years ago, the landscape of a purchase from a sponsor was remarkably different. Brand new apartments, with high end features, were coveted by potential buyers and folks literally lined up to sign purchase agreements. Sponsors were unwilling to negotiate the terms of the purchase agreement and many sales were made on a “take it or leave it” basis. Well, things have changed. Yes, there are still many situations where high end developers will not materially change the terms of the offer as stated in the Offering Plan (the document by which sponsors offer apartments for sale). On the other hand, there are many, many developers out there who are sitting with an enormous amount of inventory and they are ready to make deals. A year or two from now, things may change, but for the moment, it is still a strong buyer’s market. There are a number of factors to consider when purchasing an apartment from a sponsor.

Start with the Offering Plan

The sponsor's disclosure document is long, complicated and usually not easy to understand. The purchaser's attorney, at least in theory, will review the document and report back on issues that the purchaser should contemplate before making a decision on whether or not to go forward. Most purchasers do not actually review the Offering Plan, but rely on their attorneys to explain the relevant issues disclosed in the Plan. Nevertheless, there are several sections of the Plan, at a minimum, that a purchaser should review:

  • "Special Risks" At the beginning of each Offering Plan, there is a section entitled Special Risks, in which the sponsor discloses all of the material aspects of the Plan and possible risks to ownership. These disclosures are discussed in greater detail within the body of the Offering Plan, but the Special Risks section will disclose the most important issues that the purchaser should consider. It is essential that the purchaser review these disclosures and understand how this information might affect ownership of an apartment and the future of the development.

  • "Description of Property" Attached to the Offering Plan as an exhibit, is a document that describes the technical aspects of the construction of the building in great detail. If possible, a purchaser should have the property description reviewed by an engineer or architect to insure that there are no design or construction issues that might be a cause for concern.

  • "Rights and Obligations" Each Plan has a section describing the rights and obligations of the sponsor, the unit owner, the condominium and the Board of Managers of the condominium. These provisions give the potential owner of a unit a better sense of what to expect from the sponsor when it comes to completion of the amenities, the obtaining of a permanent certificate of occupancy and liability for construction defects. Again, it is essential that a purchaser understands the rights and obligations of each party, so that there are no surprises down the road. 

No one expects a purchaser to plow through every page of an Offering Plan. That being said, taking the time to at least review the sections referred to above, will provide the purchaser with a wealth of information.

Be Alert to Hidden Costs

One fact of life that will become immediately apparent is that sponsors like to pass along costs. From the sponsor's perspective, since the sponsor has just laid out many millions of dollars for construction, once units start getting sold, recouping costs is of major interest. Ordinarily, the seller pays the New York City and New York State transfers taxes in connection with the sale of an apartment. For New York City, this tax amounts to 1 percent of the purchase price for apartments under $500,000 and 1.425% for apartments priced at $500,000 or more. The New York State transfer tax is .004 percent of the purchase price (which equals $4 per $1,000 of purchase price). In sponsor sales, the sponsor attempts to pass those costs along to the purchaser. If you were buying an apartment for $1,000,000, that would add approximately $18,000 onto the purchase price. It's actually a greater cost, because when you sell your apartment, those transfer taxes won't be paid by the purchaser. In addition, you will also be paying the sponsor's legal fees for closing on the purchase of the unit which can add up to another $1,500 or more, when high-end law firms are handling the closings. In the old days, the sponsor would not even consider picking up these costs, and the burden of the transfer taxes and sponsor’s attorneys fee were foisted on the buyer. In many cases, these costs are now items for negotiation. With sponsors holding so much inventory, a deal won’t be lost because a buyer does not want to pay the transfer taxes. You may not always get the sponsor to go along, but under current financial conditions, it would be foolish not to ask.

The All Cash Contract

It may be too extreme to say the “all cash” contract has gone the way of the “Edsel” or maybe I should say “Pontiac” these days, but in many cases, a buyer can negotiate, and should negotiate a mortgage contingency into the purchase agreement. Earlier in the decade, sponsors would insist that a contract not be subject to financing. In other words, if a buyer needed financing, whether or not a buyer could obtain a loan was the buyer’s problem. Today, with banks cranky and unwilling to lend like they used to, there are a number of new developments that will not qualify for financing because too few units have been sold. Accordingly, it is essential that a buyer insist on a mortgage contingency and a funding contingency, to insure that the financial problems of the sponsor are not transferred to the buyer. Again and again, parties to real estate transactions learn:

If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get”

For more about mortgage and funding contingencies, see "The New Normal".

Working Capital

In new construction condo offerings, the sponsor is not required to maintain a "Reserve Fund" for future capital repairs and replacements. Nevertheless, Offering Plans usually provide for one or two month's common charges to create a "Working Capital Fund". Since you're dealing with new construction, significant repairs should not be necessary, but in many cases, construction issues do arise soon after the building is occupied. When repairs are required, unless the sponsor funds the repairs (which does not always happen), the units owners can be faced with significant increases in common charges or special assessments. Until a condominium has an operating history of at least three years, there is no way to predict whether the construction is sound or whether the unit owners will discover shoddy workmanship either in common areas, apartments or both. 

Adjustment for Real Estate Taxes

When you purchase a condo, you will be purchasing a separate unit which will be separately assessed for real estate tax purposes by New York City. When a condo is first completed, sometimes the apartments have not been separately assessed. As a result, the sponsor will make an allocation of taxes based upon (i) the current tax bill for the entire building and (ii) your pro rata share of ownership interest in what is known as the common elements of the condo. Hopefully, your unit will be separately assessed by the time of your closing, so that the taxes allocated to your unit will be known with certainty. Unfortunately, there is no assurance that such allocation will be completed prior to closing. In addition, if the sponsor is applying for a real estate tax abatement (which can last for many years), that abatement may not be in effect at the time of your closing and you will be obligated to close on the higher unabated tax. Very often, the sponsor’s estimate of the taxes is lower than the actual assessment of taxes imposed by New York City. Sponsor’s now go to great lengths in the Offering Plan to disclaim any liability if their estimates are incorrect. It can be a significant financial shock when the numbers you have been relying on, are just plain wrong.

The Elusive Closing Date

One of the most anxiety provoking aspects to buying in a new condo, is that you will be agreeing to purchase an apartment which will be completed some time in the future. Exactly when the sponsor will be ready to close will depend greatly upon whom you ask.  The sales department of a developer is there for one thing and one thing only--to get the units sold so the sponsor can close units and get rid of its construction debt. It's not exactly like the sales office in "Glengarry Glen Ross", but let's just say that there is a lot of pressure to get the units sold. As a result, you will most likely be given the most optimistic dates possible for when you will be closing and moving into your new home. Invariably, these projects take longer to complete than expected, so be prepared for delays. Many buyers who signed contracts over a year ago and were counting on easy credit, are now finding that banks lending to new developments are few and far between. Many buyers are trying to find their way out of deals and some are even walking away from deposits. In my view, an open ended purchase agreement that does not place any hard time limitation on the sponsor to complete the project and close on the sale of a particular unit, is a mistake. Buyers should insist on a contractual obligation to complete the closing by a specific date. Without that commitment, the buyer can wait around for a very, very long time.

The “Out Clause”

In most sponsor sales involving a building to be built, the Offering Plan will provide that the construction has to be completed within twelve months from the date the sponsor anticipates that the construction will be completed. This watered down obligation is just not sufficient to protect the buyer. To enforce the sponsor’s obligations, a sponsor will reluctantly give the buyer an "out date" by which the buyer can cancel the contract and get his or her money back. In other words, the contract would provide that if the closing didn't take place by a certain date (usually many months after the expected date of closing), the purchaser could cancel the contract and get out of the deal. In almost all cases (with the exception of situations where the construction is about to be completed, or is completed), the purchaser's attorney should request an out date. If the sponsor runs into financial problems and can't complete the construction, an out date is your best shot at a peaceful termination of your relationship. Don't bet the ranch on a precise closing date. Hedge your bets with an “out clause” that requires the sponsor to close on your unit within a reasonable time after your sign your purchase agreement.

The "Punch List"

The Offering Plan will always address what constitutes completion of the apartment. Invariably, the Offering Plan will provide that the apartment will be deemed completed if the only things remaining are minor (like wall dinks and paint marks). These items will be noted on an "inspection sheet" when the purchaser does his or her walk through and will theoretically be completed within a reasonable period of time after closing. The speed with which the sponsor fulfills its "punch list" obligations post-closing can depend on many factors. If there was ever a time when the squeaky wheel concept came into play it would be with the completion of punch list items. Stay on top of the construction people who are handling the post-closing items. Feed them, clothe them, promise them vacations. Do whatever you can to get the work done as soon as possible. Most developers lose interest in a project once it's completed, so tenacity about getting the punch list promptly handled will serve you well. The sponsor contract will specifically provide that no escrows or abatements will be taken for punch list items so there is no way to reduce the price or delay the closing to get the items handled. Expect to see painters, plumbers and tile guys floating around your building for many months after closing. Many sponsors got a “pass” in the old days and had watered down punch list provisions that gave the sponsor significant control of what constituted a punch list item and what became a frustration for the buyer. Although sponsors are still unwilling to go beyond the Offering Plan in terms of how a punch list will be handled after closing, buyers should ask for everything and get as much as they can.

It's Not Exactly Win Win

Historically, sponsor deals have been unbearably one-sided. Because construction costs in New York can be extraordinarily high, sponsors couldn’t afford to have any margin for error in getting their deals completed. That profile has changed dramatically and buyers are finally getting the negotiating power and respect they deserve. In many cases today, negotiating hard and not settling for unreasonable terms, will pay off for the buyer of new construction condos.

Residential Reality--Do Your Homework

You really have to do your homework when buying from a sponsor. Who are these guys? Who are their architects and builders? Who is handling sales for the sponsor? Do any of these people have a track record? Do you feel comfortable with the way you've been ushered through the sales process? There will be great time pressure on you to get your check and contracts back to the sales office. Sometimes that pressure is real because other parties may want your unit and sometimes it's just the sales people blowing smoke. You can never really be sure. Nevertheless, do what you can to educate yourself about every aspect of the project so that you can keep the post-closing surprises to a minimum. There is a carpentry expression that works well went it comes to signing the purchase agreement and tendering your down payment: Measure twice and cut once.

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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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?

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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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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?

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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?

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