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Ask an Expert: We want to buy a co-op as a pied a terre. What does it take to get approved?

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By Teri Karush Rogers  |
February 5, 2013 - 1:07PM

Q. My wife and I want to buy an apartment in Manhattan to use on the weekends.  We would rather buy a co-op as they're more affordable than condos, but many co-op buildings don't allow pied a terre purchases and some say they'll consider on a 'case-by-case' basis.

What criteria do boards consider? How can we help ensure that we'll be approved?

A.  Co-op boards have two primary reservations about residents who intend to use the apartment as a secondary residence, say our experts.

"Some are concerned that pied a terre purchasers will not be able to afford a second home if financial trouble comes and that it will take second priority," says Roberta Axelrod, a real estate broker and asset manager at Time Equities. "Some are concerned that it is simply a cover for investors who will rent out the apartment or use it as a hotel--either for money or for friends and family."

Documenting that "you can afford the apartment and being willing to pay a year's maintenance up front or put some money in escrow does the trick if the concerns are financial," says Axelrod. "Explaining who will be using the apartment and under what circumstances can be very helpful for use concerns."

An acceptable explanation might be, "We want the apartment so that we can stay over after going to the opera, and we will not have guests in the apartment when we are not there," says Axelrod.

Agrees real estate broker Shirley Hackel of Warburg Realty, "If you can show that you have a business in New York, and you will be using the apartment a night or two a week, and that you and your spouse are cultural aficionados with season weekend tickets to the opera, theater and ballet, and that your grown children live happily in their own apartments, you’re likely to be considered favorably.  If the board, however, is left to imagine that you will be giving the keys to your children, relatives and friends, you can be sure your application to purchase will be rejected.  You need to provide the board with a comfort level that your use of the apartment won’t create either noise disturbances or traffic distractions to shareholders."

Real estate attorney Adam Stone of Regosin, Edwards, Stone & Feder recalls one client who was required to put "two years of maintenance charges into escrow to 'guarantee' she was purchasing the apartment for her own use and not for her college age children. The arrangement didn't seem to make much sense but the buyer went along with it." 

In your situation, says real estate broker Gordon Roberts of Warburg Realty, "it sounds like you'd be approved from a pied a terre standpoint. [Although] many co-ops frown on absentee owners, if you're using the apartment regularly, abiding by the house rules, and paying your maintenance on time, it shouldn't be a problem."

To avoid wasting your time, find out in advance which buildings are truly pied-a-terre friendly.

"It is fundamentally the responsibility of the purchaser's broker to determine which buildings would be most suitable and have liberal pied a terre policies," says co-op and condo attorney Jeffrey Reich of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz

If you're working without a broker, the listing broker will usually know (or should know) what the co-op's rules and guidelines are, says Stone. "If not, a quick call or email to the managing agent should be able to elicit the information."

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Teri Karush Rogers

Founder & Publisher

Founder and publisher Teri Karush Rogers launched Brick Underground in 2009. As a freelance journalist, she had previously covered New York City real estate for The New York Times. Teri has been featured as an expert on New York City residential real estate by The New York Times, New York Daily News, amNew York, NBC Nightly News, The Real Deal, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, and NY1 News, among others. Teri earned a BA in journalism and a law degree from New York University.

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