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Is it rude to offer to buy a dead neighbor's apartment?

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Q: A neighbor in our building recently died, and another neighbor and I are interested in potentially splitting the apartment to renovate and add on to each of our own individual units. What's the appropriate way to approach her children, who are handling the estate? And how soon is too soon? 

A: While you're right to think you should tread lightly here, if you approach the situation the proper way, there's no reason you and your neighbor can't put in a polite offer for the apartment in question,  say our experts.

"When it comes to New York real estate, it is difficult to ever be too early," says real estate attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. While you might want to feel out the timing based on common courtesy, says Roberts, "It is best to let the family and, if possible, the designated executor know as quickly as possible about your interest in the apartment. Simple and polite expression of interest early would not be deemed offensive if done tactfully."

If, understandably,  you would rather not bother your neighbor's grieving family with the request,  CORE NYC broker Douglas Heddings recommends a phone call or letter to the attorney for the estate, instead. "The doorman or super may be able to help you find out more information," about who to contact, he notes. Failing that, says Heddings, "Perhaps a sympathy card slid under the door gently mentioning your interest in the apartment would be less intrusive."

In fact, it's very possible your neighbor's estate will be happy to hear from you. "Frankly, it may be to the estate's benefit to know there's an interested purchaser early in the process so that they don't have to bother with showing the apartment and hiring a broker," says Roberts. "In some ways, the offer could be helpful and well-received."


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