CoopAndCondo.com - Addressing the realities of Residential Real Estate

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

The Zen of Renovation

       
The Zen of Renovation

Is It Possible to Enjoy Your Apartment Renovation?

Sooner or later, almost every happy homeowner undertakes an apartment renovation or upgrade to his or her co-op or condo. Integral to that process is hiring an architect, a contractor or both. Each professional has vastly different responsibilities and each relationship has its own set of challenges. Here are ten suggestions to improve your project experience: 

Early Planning. Bring your professionals into the project as soon as possible. If you are planning a major renovation make sure that your proposed plan will be acceptable to the co-op or condo where you reside.

  • Review the Alteration Agreement. Most co-ops and condos have specific guidelines for renovations set forth in a document called an “alteration agreement”. This document and all other renovation guidelines and procedures are obtainable from the managing agent and should be reviewed carefully to insure that you understand your obligations to your co-op or condo. In most cases, there will be limitations on the time frame in which the project must be completed and other restrictions, such as specific hours when work can be conducted. The alteration agreement will also spell out the insurance requirements for your contractor as well as the documentation, fees and deposits that must be submitted before the project can get started.

  • The Architect's Contractor. If you are working with an architect, he or she may recommend a particular contractor with whom the architect has worked previously. Make sure that the bid from the contractor has been vetted against bids from other contractors, so you're comfortable that the proposal from the contractor recommended by the architect is economically reasonable based upon the complexity of the project. Once you commit to an architect, it often makes sense to go with his or her contractor. That being said, double checking all estimates makes good business sense.  

  • Due Diligence. Know who you're dealing with. Look at other completed jobs. Talk with other clients of both the architect and contractor. Find out how busy your professionals are and the size of the other projects they are working on or have recently completed. If someone tells you he or she is too busy to take on the job, be forewarned…they probably are.

  • Going it Alone. If you are not using an architect and will be finding the contractor on your own, your contractor will be wearing two hats, assisting you with the design issues and carrying out the actual nuts and bolts of the renovations. Without an architect, the apartment owner is responsible for signing off on the contractor’s work as each portion of the job is completed. If you are experienced with renovations, or if the size of the job is small, undertaking the project without an architect may work out just fine. Proceed with caution if the superintendent of your co-op or condo wants to do the work. Even though the cost of the job might be reduced if the renovation is done "in house", if anything goes wrong, firing your super will be uncomfortable to say the least. Remember, supers have many daily responsibilities to carry out and your renovation will often not be at the top of the list. 

  • When an Architect is Required. If you are clueless about the technical aspects of the renovation, having an architect involved in the process can be invaluable, and in many cases, is a necessity. Further, the size of your project may require you to work with an architect, particularly if a filing is required with the New York City Department of Buildings. Architects have two main functions: designing the project, that is, drafting plans that bring your design goals to life, and administrating the work of the contractor. Architects can be good at both phases, and sometimes, better at one or the other. Each phase is equally important to the success of the project, so make sure you have carefully checked your architect's background and qualifications for your particular renovation.

  • Everything Must be in Writing. In all cases, written agreements are required with both the architect and the contractor, setting forth each party’s obligations, including the scope of the project (what's included and what's additional), all fees and costs and the schedule for completing the job. If the architect or contractor prefers not to use the “AIA” form of owner-architect agreement or the owner-contractor agreement (in which the architect will approve payments to the contractor), take that as a “red flag”. The standard AIA documents, with some amendments, are the best documents to use when an apartment owner is undertaking a major project.

  • Use the Web. Google your intended hires and check with the Department of Consumer Affairs to determine if your contractor is licensed and to see if any complaints have been registered. 

  • Completion Protection. Try your best to get late completion penalties and a sufficient “holdback” on the final payment due the contractor until all punch-list items are completed at the end of the job. This is your best chance at getting the contractor to complete the job as promised. Contractors will resist late completion penalties and a significant holdback as contractors always complain that their customers try to walk away from the final payment when the job is completed. In all fairness, sometimes the contractor is right to be concerned. Most contractors, however, know the drill and expect the apartment owner to ask for completion protections. In most cases, something is worked out to protect against the contractor going off the reservation before the job is completed.

  • Hiring an Attorney. Once you get beyond refinishing the floors and painting, it usually makes sense for an attorney to review the documents before you go ahead with your construction professionals. These documents can be quite technical and often contain the feared "gotcha". To minimize cost overruns, it is essential that the scope of the project be clearly defined, so that the construction professional's best friend, the "change order", is an infrequent visitor. 

Residential Reality: Control the Process or it will Control You

Renovation projects, particularly in Manhattan, can be costly and almost always take longer than expected. Once your relationship with your architect or contractor starts heading south, it never gets any better. Replacing either one those folks in the middle of the project can be a daunting task. No one wants to take over someone else's half-finished bathroom renovation. Anyone who has undertaken a major renovation project knows the unmitigated joy when the drop clothes are finally removed and the gypsum dust vanishes. The above suggestions will help make the renovation ride a lot less bumpy. 

For more information about working with an architect or contractor, see "Have Your Hugged Your Contractor Today?"

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