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Searching for a New York City apartment is comparable to navigating a concrete jungle. It is made more challenging since there are more than just walls, square footage, and appliances to consider. You are entering into a (vertical) community. This means the building and its amenities are a strong consideration. We will break down the walls of the apartment building to guide you through the process.

Location, location, location

This is a familiar real estate refrain, but it takes on a whole new meaning for New York City apartments. There are different definitions for a desirable location outside of the city. In the city, convenience is essential. If your building is near transportation, that is a significant plus. Those on the Upper East Side can attest to this since there is currently only one subway line. Other important factors are being close to parks (Central Park is prominent, but there are other ones, too) and desirable stores are preferable due to the convenience.

The interior and exterior

The exterior can be thought of as “curb appeal,” but it entails more in the case of the city. The building should be attractive, and fit in with the community.

The interior of the building is also significant. It should be done tastefully. You can quickly change the paint color of your apartment, but that is not the case for the building. The style of furniture, lighting, flooring (carpets, hardwood, etc.), and landings are just some of the things you should examine upon entering the building.

Beyond style, the building should be well-maintained. You should keep an eye on everything, with no detail too small to escape your notice. This may seem like nitpicking, but a sloppy appearance not only looks bad, it could be a precursor of a negligent staff when you need maintenance on your apartment. Check for peeling paint, cracks in the wall, or dirty carpet. After all, this is your first impression of the building.

Service with a smile

You can also find out which management company the building uses, and check out its record. Some are notorious for providing poor service. Don’t associate a more prominent management company with quality.

If the building has a doorman, he/she should be courteous and greet people with a smile. That is easy to spot, but the uniforms should be neat and clean, too. Overall security is critical for you to feel safe at home.

The amenities should be something you will want and utilize. A well-equipped gym and outdoor terrace are two practical items. You are paying common/maintenance charges, so these should go to things you desire rather than something impractical and wasteful.

Digging deeper

Thus far, your inspection of the building has been pretty straightforward. It is now time to explore further and look beyond the surface.

Your eyes may glaze over at the thought of examining financial statements. You may even have trouble balancing your checkbook. But, a building’s financials are relatively easy to digest, and your broker can get you a copy. The first item to check is whether the statements are audited. Next, it is time to turn to the financial statements. The income statement will tell you whether revenue exceeds expenses or the opposite. If is the latter, that is not a good situation since there is a loss. This could mean future hikes in your monthly maintenance/common charges or a cut in services.

If ongoing, the building is not being run efficiently. You should also check the balance sheet, and see how much cash is available, and compare it to the year-ago figure. Lastly, you will want to look at the cash flow statement to see that the building is cash flow positive and where the cash is going. A building should have a big enough reserve to withstand an emergency, such as a substantial repair. A well-run building will have enough reserves to cover three to six months worth of expenses.

Next, it is time to look at the rules of the co-op or condo. Everybody will have to abide by these, and you should make sure you can live with them. While bylaws relate to the operation and governance of the co-op/condo, such as matters relating to the election of the board and frequency of the meeting, house rules focus on the quality of life issues. Mostly, these are what you can do, and what is not permissible. Ideally, these are rooted in common sense, focusing on the residents’ safety and keeping order. However, these can go overboard.

One house rule you should pay particular attention to is whether or not short-term rentals are permitted. Renters, particularly those that will not be there for an extended period, will not put the same care into the building as an owner. Also, if more than 50% of the condo units are investors, banks may be reluctant to lend, making obtaining a mortgage more challenging.

It is now time to turn to the mix of units in the building. Ideally, you do not want to buy the biggest apartment in the building. It is an old real estate axiom to buy a smaller house in the best neighborhood rather than the largest one in a more run-down area. Also, the fewer the number of apartments in the building, the more desirable. More units mean more crowding, increased wait times for things like the elevator, and more neighbors. You will also have more competition when it is time to sell or rent your apartment.

Final thoughts

Finding the right building is a complex undertaking, with many considerations. Aside from the ones mentioned, you should also see if there is storage space. It may not be a deal breaker, but it is an item that is nice to have and a selling point when you are ready to move.


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