Home buyers on the hunt for their new home in NYC often fall into the same traps. They only think about what sort of color scheme they will go for, how many people they can invite for cocktail parties and so on. Instead, they should be asking the listing agent more pointed questions about the buildings policies and its legal standing. Whether you’re relocating to the city for the first time or shopping for an upgrade, here are the questions you should ask before signing on the dotted line.

1. How old is the building and when was it last renovated?

New York is certainly known for the beautiful charm of its prewar buildings but there’s a fine line between historic charm and just plain old. When viewing older properties, you should ask how long it’s been since the utility systems – plumbing, wiring, heating – were upgraded. Fail to get the facts on this and your dream home can quickly become a black hole for your wallet. You might also find our article about questions to ask a building management company helpful.

2. What is the square footage of the apartment?

When asking about square footage, keep in mind that there is no universal method for measuring it. It’s important that you know what’s included when you ask for a number (which is usually a rough estimate). There’s the walls-out method where all space, even those taken up by walls is included. Then there’s the walls-in livable space method where the space taken up by walls and non-livable areas (closets and hallways) is excluded. Listing agents will sometimes overestimate the size so the only way to be certain is if you hire a draftsman to measure it for you.

3. How friendly/reasonable is the board?

If you’re scoping out condos and co-op apartments, the board of the building will have a big impact on both the purchase and your living quality. As such, it helps to know if whether or not they are reasonable and friendly. Naturally, if you ask the listing agent this they’ll say very friendly, but you can look for clues in how they said it. This is where having your own buyer’s agent can come in handy. They can ask around and do a little investigating to see if any of the board’s members are capricious or downright bonkers.

4. Is there any pending litigation in the building?

Proceed with extreme caution if there is any legal action being taken against the building. If it’s between the shareholders and the building, things can get highly expensive and unpleasant for all the owners. While larger buildings can often blunt the impact of delinquencies and litigation on their budget, smaller buildings often can’t. This can result in everyone’s common charges going up.

5. Is the building on a ground lease?

Any building on a ground lease does not own the land it is built on. If so, then before proceeding further you should find out when the lease expires and what the renewal terms are. If there are no pre-set terms for renewal and the lease is expiring soon it would probably be better to start looking elsewhere. Renewing a ground lease can be very expensive and if not renewed the entire building could become forfeit.

6. What is the sublet policy for the apartment?

Even if you plan to remain in place for many years it’s important to know what the sublet policy is. The ability to sublet dramatically increases the marketability of the home. It can also be a good source of income if you ever decide to take a long vacation. Make sure to ask for a copy of the sublet application. That way you can see how easy/difficult it would be to sublet should you choose to in the future.


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