Are you thinking of buying an apartment in either a cooperative or a condominium building? Perhaps you’ve already visited your dream apartment and are ready to place an offer, or you’ve already placed that offer and now await the dreaded Board package to be sent in (and hopefully approved). Whatever stage you’re in, reviewing the items that I’ve listed below will help you steer clear of a problem building and minimize your chances for a rude awakening once you move in.
1. Walk Through All Common Areas: I remember when a friend asked me to come with him to a Great Neck, NY cooperative that he was looking into purchasing. The apartment itself was nice, but when we were walking through the top-floor hallway and then looked at the staircase to the roof, the walls and ceilings were in deplorable condition. Obviously, this wasn’t a part of the apartment that he would be purchasing, but the fact that the cooperative Board hadn’t taken care of their common property lead me to believe that when a Shareholder has an issue with a Cooperative-responsible item within the apartment (it will arise, eventually), the care, craftsmanship and high-priority that it should take may not be there. Thankfully, he passed on this apartment and went to a better maintained building.
2. What Is The Recent Bed Bugs History? In New York City, all apartments that change hands are required to include a Bed Bugs History form, alerting the new tenant of the apartment to any bed bugs in the building within the past year. You’ll learn if the building had them on the floor and if they were or weren’t treated. I take bed bugs so seriously that one of my more popular blog posts and videos on my website are on this topic. Granted, bed bugs are everywhere, but if there was a recent outbreak in the building, this should be a cause of concern.
Bed bugs spread very easily and can live for a year without feeding (in a multi-family building this will never happen as there is always a source of food – unlike a cabin in the woods that is unoccupied for months at a time). You want to make sure that if there was a recent outbreak, that building management took the preventative steps in order to both eradicate the infestation and then testing after the treatments to ensure that they were actually removed from the property.
3. Have Your Attorney Read The Building’s Minutes: I recommend to all clients that their meeting minutes should be as sparse as possible (they’re a legal document after all and shouldn’t be used as a word-for-word recap of the meeting), but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be valuable information located within them. If you’re looking to purchase a particular apartment, you can get a sense if there are any overriding issues within either your apartment, in your line of apartments or in the building, in general. You may even find some information about a possible problem-neighbor that you can avoid as well.
Minutes will also be a good source of learning about the financial condition of the building, the major upcoming projects (we want to see how they’ll be funded and if the Unit Owners or Shareholders can expect to be hit with an increase or with an assessment, etc.) and will also give you a window into how the Board / building operates. Purchasing is a two-way street. As much as the Board, in a Cooperative, is interviewing a prospective purchaser at the interview, the purchaser is doing the same thing; sizing up the Board and the way that they run their building.
4. How Responsive Is The Management Company During The Application Process? The application stage is a good reference point for any potential purchaser as to how the Management company will treat you once you get into the building. We have Boards that specifically ask in an interview how the Management company treated them during the process, so this is important on both ends. If you’re calling and e-mailing and you’re not getting any response from the Management company while you are in the process of purchasing, this is a sure sign that when you’re an actual Shareholder or Unit Owner, you may get the same treatment.
5. Review The Financial Statements Over Multiple Years: This item should go without saying. To make sure that the building you’re purchasing into is financially solvent, you’ll want to either review their Financials yourself, or have your attorney / accountant review for you. You’ll begin to see patterns on expenditures, get an insight into their current financing and will see if they’re burning a lot more than is coming in. Just like any business, if they’re spending more than they’re making, you want to make sure that the expenditures were for the right reasons and that there are sufficient reserves should they run out of operating cash.
There are so many questions and scenarios that as a purchaser you should be looking for. These five questions above are a good starting-point to start your internal conversation to negotiate with yourself, initially, if the building that you may potentially buy into is a good fit for you.