We’d had a whirlwind tour of open houses on Cabrini Boulevard. One 3-bedroom apartment seemed virtually perfect. It met all my criteria, and on top of that, had just been totally renovated. “Mint condition” is an over-used word in real estate, but in this case it was entirely accurate.
In Manhattan, where apartments not uncommonly sell above their asking prices, I felt that an offer 5% below the listing was reasonable. I called the agent who had shown us the place, and made the offer. Realtors in New York work in “teams.” The agent we saw was an underling. She had to pass the offer up the chain of command.
The head of the team called me back about an hour later. After asking a bunch of questions about my income and assets—to satisfy herself that the offer was credible—she agreed to present my offer to the seller. And she had a surprising piece of news: if my offer was accepted, the sale wouldn’t have to go through the co-op board, as long as I was putting 20% down, and the ratio of the mortgage payment to my monthly income was below 30%.
In New York, about 80% of the apartments for sale are co-ops. Normally, co-0p buyers in NYC must go through a ritual that is virtually non-existent anywhere else: board approval. The co-op board can block a transaction for any reason, or no reason at all. In extreme cases, co-ops have gone unsold for months, or even years, as the board turned down one buyer after another.
The most common reason for turn-downs is that the buyer’s financial resources aren’t solid enough. Co-op boards’ financial requirements are often far more stringent than banks. There are some high-end buildings that don’t allow mortgages at all: only all-cash buyers are accepted. There are many more that require down payments much higher than the typical bank. These days, you can get a sub-prime loan with as little as 5% down, but most co-ops require at least 20% (including the one I’m bidding on), and higher percentages are quite common.
Sometimes the board decides they just don’t want you as a neighbor. There are well known cases of prominent celebrities being turned down, because the board thinks the celebrity will bring a lot of commotion to the building. But there are plenty of cases where a seemingly innocent question (“When was the lobby last renovated?”) is enough to make the board think you’re a trouble-maker, and that’s all it takes. Boards in Upper Manhattan aren’t nearly as snooty as their counterparts further south. Still, board approval can never be taken for granted, and even in a simple case, it adds a couple of months to the process.
Back to Cabrini Boulevard: When a building makes the transition from rental to co-op, by law the existing tenants can’t be forced out. At the time 360 Cabrini Boulevard converted to co-op, the sponsor sold a bunch of tenant-occupied units to an investor, who has been collecting rental income and selling them one by one, as they become vacant. That investor obtained dispensation that his sales would be automatically approved, as long as the buyer met basic financial requirements. That’s why the unit I’m bidding on doesn’t have to go through the co-op board.
So, I placed the offer on Sunday night, and started waiting. Nothing moves faster than a realtor who has a bona fide customer on the hook, so I was surprised when Monday came and went, and I did not hear from her. It wasn’t till mid-day Tuesday that she finally got back to me with a counter-offer just $4,000 above where I had envisioned doing the deal. I wasn’t going to quibble over $4,000, so I said “done.”
I was buying an apartment!
To be continued…